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Peru Wrap-up

It was five amazing weeks, but unfortunately my time in Peru has come to an end. I arrived in Chile this morning, so I figured I should probably say something about the last few weeks in Peru.

After we were in Lima last, we were on our way to Cuzco to see Macchu Picchu. But given that its a 22 hours bus ride, we thought we´d break it up a little by stopping over in a place called Huacachina. Its a small desert oasis just outside of Ica. It has two main attractions, partying and sand boarding. We were thee for the latter. It was a fun place to spend a night to break up a long trip, but beyond that, theres not a ton else to it.

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Getting to Cuzco brought with it the reality that we were going there during the rainy season. It rains at least once at some point during the day there. But despite this, we were all excited to get our trips to Macchu Picchu under way! I was set on doing the Salkantay trek to Macchu Picchu, while Alex and Julia opted for another trip there that was a day shorter. The Salkantay is a five day trek, that takes you through almost all types of landscape imaginable. Day two of the trek had us climb 900m over a mountain pass where we were at the same level at glaciers. After just a few hours of walking down, we were in dense jungle. Despite raining ALL DAY, it was a pretty amazing day. The next day was easier, and involved a stop over at some hot springs, which was more than welcomed after three days of being wet, cold, and dirty. From there it was a one day hike to Aquas Caliente, the launching point for Macchu Picchu. Aquas Caliente is an odd place in that it exists only to service Macchu Picchu. On the one hand, its as tourist-trappy as can be, but on the other it has a very cool vibe to it. There´s a collective sense of excitment because everyone there has made the journey just to see Macchu Picchu. Im still not quite sure what I thought of it in the end.

Along the trek

Along the trek

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The trek up to Macchu Picchu had us up at 4am the next day. Getting up to Macchu Picchu involves a 500m climb, and the entrance to the site opens at 6am, so we wanted to be there a early as possible. We awoke to pouring rain. Not the best start to the day, but we were off anyway. For the first few hours of being up there, the fog was so thick, we couldnt see the mountains around us, or even the whole site. But as the day went on, it cleared little by little. It ended up being a very cool way to see it. For a place with so much mystery surrounding it, the foggy start to the day only added to the experience. The day ended with the long trek back down to Aquas Caliente and then catching a train back to Cuzco.

 

View at 6am

View at 6am

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Alex and Julia had already moved on from Cuzco to Arequipa by the time I got back, so that night, myself and a guy named Benoit who I met on the trek were on a bus again to try cross paths with them. We caught them for a few hours before they were off again. But Benoit and I stuck around a while longer to do a three trek through the Colca Canyon, just outside of Arequipa. It was a little harder than I had anticipated, but it was an amazing three days. It involved lots of going up and then down again. There were almost no flat trails, which made for some sore joints. But the weather was amazing, and it was a great way to see the canyon.

Colca Canyon

Colca Canyon

Condor

Condor

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After a 1250m climb

After a 1250m climb

Which brings to Arica, Chile! I got here this morning and plan on spending the next few days relaxing before making the long trip down to Santiago, and eventually Patagonia!

Hope everything is well wherever this finds you!

 

Huaraz

I´m writing this back in Lima. We finished our time in Northern Peru with some trekking in the Andes, which was nothing short of amazing. Getting burned on beaches is fun, but it can get old after a while, so I was grateful for a chance to get all new sunburns in the mountains  (seriously, I cant seem to avoid sunburns here).

We took a bus from Trujillo to Huaraz, which is not all that far. But it involves going from sea level up to 3000m. Huaraz seems to take on the same pace of life as most mountain towns I´ve ever visited. The clean mountain air, the slower pace of life, the white cap mountains in the distance, and the occational vender trying to sell me knock off North Face gear were pleasantly remasicant of my time in Nepal last year.

We went to Huaraz with the intention of doing the Santa Cruz Trek. It´s the most famous trek in the region and it involves 3-4 days of walking through two valleys with one high mountain pass along the way. But in an effort to acclimatize ourselves, we did a day trip to a glacier three hours from Huaraz in the Cordillera Negra mountain range. Its at 5000m, but we were driven almost all the way up so it was nice and easy. Despite some snow up at the glacier, it was a very cool way to get acclimatized.

On our way to the Glacier

On our way to the Glacier

 

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The next day was spent renting good sleeping bags, a little stove, and buying the food we would need for our trek. We opted to do it without a guide, which meant we had to bring everything we needed with us, from my tiny 2 person MEC tent to maps of the region.

But after everything was all ready to go, we were off. The trek typically takes 4 days, but we managed to finish it in three. The first day involved taking a bus through the mountains on some terrifying roads to the starting point of the trek. But we made it no problem and were off! We walked about 5 hours the first day to our campsite and did some hiking around there to get some great views of the mountains. The next day was the hard one. We set off by 8am and had the pass ahead of us. The day started out at 3800m and we needed to climb up to 4700m over the pass. This proved rather difficult. But after many exhausted breaks and several false guesses as to how high we actually had to climb (to our dismay we had to climb the ridge we had all assumed there was no way on earth we had to go all the way up there), we made it. We were lucky as well because the weather was clear enough to see both sides of the pass. So after enjoying the views, and the beer Julia had been hiding for this very moment, we were headed down the other side to our campsite. The campsite we were aiming for was a little further than we had anticipated, and due to a landslide a few years back, the trail didnt do what the map said, so it was a long walk. But we eventually camped on what once was the banks of a lake, but thanks to the landslide a few years ago is now a dry lake bed, which held its own creepy aesthetic value. The evening was spent making rice, and trying to figure out what the group of wild horses who has assembeled at our campsite wanted (it wasnt food…).

Road to the starting point

Road to the starting point

Cordillera Blanca

Cordillera Blanca

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The crew

The crew

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Climbing the pass

Climbing the pass

Victory Beer!

Victory Beer!

The Valley we climbed out of

The Valley we climbed out of

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The valley we climbed down into

The valley we climbed down into

The last day we just went as fast as we could to the end to catch a bus back to Huaraz! Yesterday was recovery. Doing the trek in 3 days comes with a certain amount of pain. We left Huaraz last night, but not before trying one of the local dishes, Cuy. Guinea Pig. Kind of stringy…

We´re in Lima now on our way to Cusco to check out Machu Picchu!

Sam

 

Peruvian Beach Bums

I am now one week into my South American adventures! It´s been a crazy week, but it feels really good to be back on the road again.

We got to Lima a week ago, and spent two days hanging around the city with some of Alex´s friends from Lima,  Ani and Cristina. It was the perfect way to introduce us to Peru, and to get us going on our trip. Our first full night they took us to a series of bars that you would never find in your Lonely Planet. One of which had no sign, and you had to know the address and have to have gate opened by a bouncer. It was a super hip bar with lots of cool artwork. I leanred afterwards that one of the guys we were having a dance party with with a bass player for some Peruvian Heavy-Metal band. The next bar was a converted apartment that was now a punk-ska bar. Based on some of the looks we got when we walked in, I´m guessing tourists don´t frequent these places. The next day they took us out for some Cebice, a traditional Peruvian dish. I don´t know exactly whats involved in its preparation, but its essentially raw fish that gets soaked in Lemon juice, which actually cooks the fish a little bit. But the fish is pretty much raw, and is served with some of the most amazing sauces I´ve ever tasted. If I created a list of the five most memorable meals of my life, this would have been up there somewhere. Despite some hearing some less than favorable thing about Lima, I quite liked it.

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Cebice

Cebice

 

We then hopped on a bus to Trujillo, which is on the coast about half way up from Lima to Ecuador. Within an hour in the city, we (including an Argentinian friend we met on the bus named Greg) decided there was not much to do there, so we headed for a small surfing town 15 km away called, Haunchaco. Now, I´ve always hoped I would simply run across someone I know while traveling, but it´s never happened. When we got to Haunchaco, we walked into a restaurant and heard a familiar voice call us over. A guy we had worked with this summer, named Mattieu, was having lunch in the same restaurant. I didn´t even know he was travelling let alone staying in the same small surfing town we were in Peru. We ended up spending the rest of the day catching up, body boarding (surfing in Alex´s case) and building things in the sand. Small world. The next day we explored a place called Chan Chan, which is a huge complex of ruins right on the coast. From what I gathered on our guided tour, most of what they know about it is speculation. But whatever it was once, it much have been quite impressive!

Alex and I

Alex and I

Fishing Boats in Huanchaco

Fishing Boats in Huanchaco

Chan Chan

Chan Chan

Hairless Peruvian Dog- Apparently thats a thing

Hairless Peruvian Dog- Apparently thats a thing

Sunset at Huanchaco

Sunset at Huanchaco

From there we caught a very long and uncomfortable bus up to Mancora, where we are now. It´s supposed to be the surfing Mecca of South America, but unfortunately for the hoards of surfers in the water waiting for a good wave, the water is as calm as can be. I was hoping to try learn how to surf, but that may have to wait. We´re going to go back down through Haunchaco again, so hopefully I´ll be able to catch a wave there!

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Mancora

Mancora

We have a few more days beach bumming around here, and then we´re headed inland to do some trekking in the Andes. Despite some nasty sun burns and an unfortunate run in with bed bugs, we´re doing well!

Hope winter is being kind,

Sam

Canadaschmanada Goes South

Despite having had an amazing trip last year, I have decided that last years adventures didn’t quite fully quench my thirst for travel. So, I am writing this post to you from Lima, Peru. I got here last night with two friends of mine, Julia and Alex. We have only very lose plans as of right now, but the plan is roughly to be down here for three months. We’ll likely be in Peru for a month, and then head down into Chile. So if you care to follow along on our adventures, subscribe to this blog, and I’ll post some stories and pictures from time to time.

In the meantime, I have to give myself a crash course in Spanish.

From Lima with Love,

Sam 

Shameless self-promotion

Oh hey there readers! If you’re seeing this, it means you’re still on our subscription list — and don’t drop us now, Sam’s soon heading off for more adventures! But if, in the meantime, you happen to feel like cooking a little bit, or eating a-lot-a-bit, you should check out the culinary madness happening at my new blog, One Tough Cookie! http://toughcookieblog.com/ if you’re interested.

Love,

A

SXF – STN, LGW – YYZ.

Dearest Readers,

Trying to make it through UK border control in July might not have been my finest travelling moment. I was flying with Ryanair from Berlin to London, and the night before my departure I’d been so concerned about finding a way to print off my boarding pass (Ryanair will otherwise charge you upwards of fifty dollars to print it for you at the airport) that I might have forgotten to bring along a few other handy bits of information — information like my proof of onward travel and the address of my friends Jacob and Claire, with whom I’d be staying in Cambridge. Oh dear. The customs officer  made it clear that  her reluctance to let me through stemmed primarily from her disbelief that someone could actually be so stupid as to arrive in London in the month of the Olympics without any evidence of a place to stay. And yet, I made it through! And thank goodness, because that last month in the UK was just what I needed before I could be ready to head home.

why bother with the Olympics when you can just compete with yourself in fried fish consumption?

Now, some people might encourage you to travel in order to “experience different cultures!”  “taste new food!” “broaden your understanding of this world!” — whatever. Honestly, the number one reason to travel is to meet people who live in other parts of the world so that you can show up in their hometown with little-to-no advanced notice and crash on their couches. Case in point: I was travelling in Australia and met the gorgeous, gracious Lucy — little did she know that I would months later be imposing myself (and all my stuff) on her living room floor. But she took my arrival in stride, and I owe her thanks not only for the inflatable mattress, but for the wonderful dinners, the market tours, and the glorious picnics that took full advantage of the only three-consecutive-days-of-sunshine that happened in July.

picnicking with my lovely hostess Lucy (pictured centre) & friends at the local park

I’d also planned for that London excursion to coincide with the few days that Sky and Al (of Canadaschmanada’s First-Ever-Post fame) would be there. We may or may not have wandered through the National Gallery making up alternative titles for some of the more dramatic  pieces of  art, tittering amongst ourselves and offending the occasional Serious Art Student. Together, we also visited the Camden Markets, the Caledonia Road Flower Market, a few restaurants, and an un-tallyable number of coffee shops together. I know this is going to sound hackneyed, but you’ll just have to indulge me on this one: words cannot adequately describe how nice it was to see them again.

back for an encore!

ladies just outside of the flower market

shopping for cameras at the Camden markets

After London, I spent a few days with some friends in Mossley. Never heard of it? I hadn’t either, until, wayyy back in Thailand, when Sam I met two guys named Sam (confusing, I know) and David who hailed from this smallish town, about 14km east of Manchester. Sam (the English one) picked me up in Manchester, and we  arrived in Mossley just in time to catch David and a few of their other friends at the local swimming hole. (Swimming hole? you might ask in confusion, certain you’d heard that it barely hit twenty degrees in England all summer — yes, the answer is yes, and if you somehow manage to escape the sub-zero dunk, you’ll have to let me know how you did it because these boys are awfully persuasive). The next day, their friends Steven and Stefan were kind enough to take me on a walk through Dovestones, the foxglove-studded peak district complete with an old rock quarry and humongous grazing sheep.

oh, you know, the usual stunts — David’s at the far left and Sam’s the one about to flirt with gravity.

Stefan and Steven at the quarry

amazing view from the top of Ashway Gap, which the boys race up every year — naturally.

hike happy, on our way out of the green

And last but far from least, let’s talk a little about my temporary almost-home, Cambridge:

Claire and Jacob easily win the ‘Best Hosts’ award, for allowing me to stay with them for almost the entire month of July.For those of us who weren’t finishing up our final dissertation (i.e. not Jacob, who spent many a day cozying up to the Medieval law texts in the library), the pace of life was relaxed and easy.The near-constant rain helped me feel better about the fact that I could be found in three (and only three) states during my time in Cambridge: at yoga class, baking, or napping. Which is not to suggest that Cambridge lacks sightseeing opportunities — after all, every day we watched hordes of miserable Spanish students with their names inscribed on their backpacks being dragged from church to church, historical building to historical building — but I was feeling lazy and self-indulgent.

Instead, I grew to love the walk through Jesus Green from Midsummer Common, with its London Plane trees and the path that became gorgeously flooded as the month progressed. I loved the rows of chimneys, and the bustle of Market Square, and eavesdropping on all the guided punt-tours of the River Cam. But most of all, I loved being with Jacob and Claire again. For the three years before this trip, we’d been neighbours in addition to sharing classes, and I could always rely on them for everything — from sage advice to letting me know that butter had gone on sale.

Although so much time had passed since we’d last seen each other, we were swapping stories and recipes as though we’d just left our Little Italy homes a week or two ago. Last September, I couldn’t have imagined that in a different kitchen halfway across the world, we would still be sipping on tea and dissecting our thoughts on Latin poets, philosopher kings, and Cosmo magazine’s bizarre fetishization of food — but there we were, and it was easy as ever.

beloved chimneys, just before a storm

JUST what I needed for my new apartment

tea & scones with Claire at the Orchard Tea Garden

my favourite house in Cambridge

daily bailing out of the punts

my fantastic hosts

This post  is already proving to be obscenely long, so I’ll try to make this last bit short and sweet (–moreover, as Sam’s already going to be  scratching his travelling itch this coming winter, you can be sure this is only our ‘final entry for now’):

An enormous thank you goes to all of our fantastic  hosts, and to the people who came out and travelled with Sam, myself, or the two of us together; thank you to the new friends we met along the way; thank you to the strangers who helped us when we were down and out; and thank you, dear Readers, all of you, for following our journeys, supporting us with your messages, and reminding us that no matter what happened, there was a city back home full of people who loved us, and could we please come home safe and soon.

From Toronto, at long last, with love,

A

FCO — SXF

Meine Damen und Herren,

Let’s say you’re already in Europe. And perhaps you’ve almost maxed out the legal amount of time you can stay there, with the exception of Romania and the UK. Maybe one of your best friends is currently living in Germany. What’s that? You’ve never been to Germany before? Flying between European countries is cheaper than three nights’ worth of dinner in Rome? I guess it’s settled then — you, my friend, are going to Berlin.

In the week that I was there, Julia and I carefully divided our time into equal parts sightseeing and power-napping. We skipped the expensive museums in favour of a walk along the East Side Gallery (an open-air gallery where artists have painted giant murals along the remaining section of the Wall), several impromptu street art stops, and many, many cheap falafel and currywurst meals. Other highlights included when Felix (Julia’s main squeeze and our gracious guide) brought us to the Ritter Sport chocolate factory on a rainy day, because why the heck not, we are talking about chocolate here; hopping on the train to visit the lovely town of Potsdam for an afternoon; hitting up the massive flea market at Mauerpark and, on a friend’s tipoff, staying for the amazing open-air karaoke; and, of course, the requisite all-nighter at one of Berlin’s excellent clubs, during which Julia and I sported hand-drawn Canadian flags on our arms in honour of July 1st, and all the boys were wearing deep v-necks and dancing in a way that resembled a very stiff, one-leg-at-a-time boogie-woogie.

samplin’ the goods at Ritter Sport

East Side Gallery walkabout (alternative caption: The Only Time I’ve Ever Been More Tanned than Julia)

I ordered the small glass. Just saying.

the crowd gathered for karaoke — please note the couple making out.

the lovely Miss Julia, on our way to Potsdam

But here’s the thing about Berlin: it was the people that made it worthwhile. Not only was I lucky enough to see Julia again, and halfway across the globe from our first reunion on this trip, but the people who put me up (and put up with me) — Felix, Doro, and Georg — really made the visit to Berlin worthwhile. Just wanted to say thank you for the bed and the cheese, the neighbourhood suggestions and the German lessons (I’m sure ‘augenbraue‘ will come in handy someday), the sourdough starter recipe and the homemade dessert wine, and just thank you, thank you, thank you for the warmth and the laughter.

From Berlin with love,

A

Dear Weeders and Whackers,

Sorry I’ve been a little out of touch lately. Will you forgive me if I tell you it’s because I’ve been farming? Farming makes you tired. The last thing you want to do after seven hours of farming is update your blog. In fact, you rarely have the energy to shower more than once every three days. Forgive me? I’ll make you a risotto if you say yes.

A little while ago, I became a member of WWOOF Italia (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms). The program operates on the premise that volunteers can obtain free room and board in exchange for manual labour on any of the organization’s estates. I’d heard through the family grapevine (hi Ric and Louise!) that there was a gorgeous castle in Tuscany that took on WWOOFers for the vineyard there — they had me at “castle.” A train ride, three bus rides, and an hour-long walk later, I found myself in the middle of wilderness nowhere, with nothing but grapevines and olives trees and my home for the next three weeks: Castello di Potentino.

home sweet home

The castle has been around since at least 1042 (for more on the history, go to: http://www.potentino.com/index.aspx?site=125&page=359), and is full of musty books, four-poster beds, tigerskin rugs, Templar crosses, tapestries, squishy couches, fireplaces, and bottles of freshly picked lavender on every tabletop. The castle is run by an English (not, to many people’s great surprise, Italian) sister-brother duo, Charlotte and Alexander, and it is made even lovelier by their sweetheart of a mother, Sally.

the kitchen

the great hall

enroute to the lower vineyard

The days go a little like this:

Between five and five thirty in the morning, we WWOOFers ease our way into the new day. The espresso is set hissing on the stovetop and without any real appetite we fill our bellies with yoghurt and granola. By six, we head into the vineyards, the rows and rows of green rustling in the pre-dawn breeze. We prune or de-bud or weed until eleven, though by eight the sun is already pouring onto the fields and the work moves from tired silence to polite chatter and the occasional curse as someone, having just pulled out a weed, goes flying.

We tumble into the kitchen around noon and under Charlotte’s or Alexander’s direction, we help cook lunch. The afternoon feast lasts about two hours and is followed by some well-deserved rest time (also laundry time, reading time, or baking-more-granola time if you can manage to stay awake). Everybody moves sluggishly in the afternoon heat, and even the tiniest incline seems cruel. Then, once the hottest hours of the day have passed, we’re back in the fields for our final two hours of work.

hi ho, hi ho

pruning and working on my sock tan at the same time

The castle’s at its best in the early evening and everyone is as exhilarated as they are exhausted by completing another day’s work. The walk back is my favourite part of the day: the mountains in the background are slowly turning blue, the small sheaves of wheat are bleached white by the low sun, and the poppies scattered on both sides of the path shine like glass beads.

Dinner is really just a way of showcasing the castle’s two specialties: il vino e l’olio extravirgine di oliva — for the record, I think we’re consuming almost as much of the latter as the former. Everyone relaxes by the archways overlooking the tree-covered hills, and when even the twilight has melted away, we set aside our debates and discussions to go marvel at the fireflies. Nighttime is nothing but stars.

dinner’s rolling

From Potentino with love,

A

Dear Weeders an…

Late May’s showers and Early June’s flowers

Movers and Shakers,

On the nineteenth of May, I was greeted at the Nice airport by the beaming face of none other than my father. We’d agreed a couple months before to meet up for some travelling together, and Nice seemed like the perfect starting point for our eventual destination, Corsica.

We rented a beautiful apartment in Rue Michel-Ange. It rained all the time we were there, leaving the stone streets a vivid blue-black and keeping the other tourists at home so we could have the whole city to ourselves. We visited the local famers’ market and marvelled at the purple artichokes, the wrinkled heirloom tomatoes, and the snow-white asparagus. We consumed a lot of perfect, buttery croissants washed down with a cafe au lait (moi) or  a cafe noir (le père).

Daddy-O enjoying himself despite the rain

in the old quarter of the city

art along the tramline.

On our third day, we caught the ferry to Corsica and watched from the boat as the sun set behind Napoleon’s hometown. We spent our time there with slow, lazy mornings waiting for the fog to lift, and then long drives in every direction across the island. Corsica has an unbelievably diverse landscape — in the space of an hour, the scenery can change from golden beaches to bullrush-scattered marshland, to vividly green mountains, and then back again. The roads there resemble the squiggles left by insects on eucalyptus bark; they are so endlessly twist-and-turn-y that Corsicans don’t even feel the need to have guardrails or signs on the roads for your assistance. The idea is, I believe, to just be on your guard all the time — and Corsicans take these roads at 120km per hour, no less.

The towns we visited were exceptionally lovely: old slate roofs with moss growing in the nooks, bright streets, flowers bursting from every corner, perfect old trees, spiralled streetlamps, and  (of course) somewhere small to savour a glass of fizzling, sweet Muscat.

From Corsica, my father and I temporarily split up. I caught the first train that morning to Naples to be reunited once more with my friend Ashley, who lives there now.  We spent a week feasting on classic pizza Napoletana, pasta as thick and chewy as calamari rings, slivered prosciutto crudo, smoked provolone rounds melted over red peppers and arugula, Ashely’s gorgeous from-scratch arrabiata sauce, and — of course — wine.

What was the best thing I ate in Naples, you ask? There’s no competition: the fresh mozzarella di bufala takes the cake. A perfect, white sphere of cheese fished out from its watery container, sliced lengthwise, then each bite proceeding from the slightly chewy exterior to the dense, creamy interior that melts like butter on your tongue.

Ashley, unlike me, has the good sense to mix all this indulgence with exercise, and on our last morning together, I got to cheer her on as she championed through a 9km race and emerged beaming.

Love this girl to bits. Don’t mind the half-naked guy in the background, either. 

My time with Ashley in Naples was so great that I was reluctant to move on, but Cinque Terre beckoned. On June 3rd, I met up with my father again, and the six others that would make up our little hiking group. What Gap Adventures didn’t mention in the email with the directions is that you will be walking uphill — and I mean UP. HILL. — with all your luggage for half an hour before reaching the hotel. By the time we had all made it to dinner, we were laughing and calling it our training hike.

The group was fantastic, our leaders Vivien and Danilo were excellent, and Cinque Terre was every bit as beautiful as I’d hoped it would be. Tall, brightly painted houses with terra cotta roofs and propped-up shutters, turquoise waters and ash-coloured rocks run through with bright veins of quartz, little red boats, large chocolate gelati, rolling mountainsides sculpted into vineyards. In other words: perfection. Our hikes took us through all five of the towns: Riomaggiore (where we were staying), Manarola, Cornelia, Vernazza, and Monterosso, and I think I managed to sample food from every single one.

Riomaggiore, home sweet home.

love locks along the Via dell’Amore, between Riomaggiore and Manarola

Seasoned hiker duo. Please note Dad’s hilariously high-tech stick.

late afternoon in Vernazza

All in all, a wonderful past month.

From Tuscany with love,

A

This week in Jerusalem! & other Israeli tales.

Worshippers and Whippersnappers,

My last week in Israel was pure magic. I was lucky enough to squeeze not one but three reunions in this brief time! First, uncle Andy (my father’s elder brother) came out to Jerusalem to spend the day with me, and we explored  the very beautiful Museum of Psalms, the Mahane Yehuda markets, the many nooks and flower-covered crannies of the nearby neighbourhoods,  and then we paid a sobering visit to the Holocaust memorial there, Yad Vashem.  At night, my cousins Dovid and Tova, whom I hadn’t seen for years, came to join us for a lovely dinner together and we strolled around the Ben Yehuda pedestrian area afterwards, admiring street clowns and the occasional Hassidic Jew playing electric guitar.

Jerusalem blossoms.

Lipson family reunion!

And in case you didn’t believe in fate, you should know that a few days later, my cousin Jessica and I (both in Tel Aviv but unaware that the other one was there) ran into each other on one of the many beaches! We had a lovely mini-family Shabbat dinner together at one of the hippest restaurants in town, and even managed to snag a free dessert out of it from the very friendly waiters there.

Jessica, showing me the best frozen yogurt bar in town.

So how did I pass the time, you ask, when I was not reuniting with my globally-scattered kin? Adventuring, of course. Or, well, in the case of Jerusalem, not-so-adventuring-but-definitely-low-budget-group-touring. Sometimes — and especially in a city where there is as much to see and do as Jerusalem,  and in the case where you may or may not have cheaped out at the airport (see: may) and decided not to spend your money on a guidebook — a traveller can use some sightseeing assistance.

So off I went — just me, the tourguide, and half the population of Florida — to hit up more sacred sites than you would think humanly possible to cram into a four-hour tour: the Via Dolorosa, the Armenian quarter, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (where the Russian Orthodox tourists go to weep), the Dome of the Rock, theWailing Wall (locals doing some weeping of their own),and the Mount of Olives.

Particularly enjoyed the Arab souq, which was highly reminiscent of Morocco; the little shoots sprouting from people’s folded prayers in the Western Wall; and the extraordinary number of miserable high school students napping on each others’ laps between sites. Throw in some fantastic shakshuka (very rich, tomato-based dish with poached eggs), some perfect falafel, and the best damn babaganoush I’ve ever tasted, and you can perhaps begin to understand why I was finding it very hard to leave.

Dome of the Rock

notes and prayers left in the Western Wall

delectable halva on sale in the market.

Canadaschmanada quiztime interjection! Remember the friend who went hiking with Jordan and me in the last post? Adam was his name. You should probably learn it, since this lovely gentleman had a few days free and heard that I was going to drop almost a hundred and fifty dollars on a day trip to Ein Gedi and and Dead Sea. He graciously intervened, and the two of us instead rented a car and went off into the wilderness ourselves for a bit of camping and hiking!

–Okay, if you know me at all, you either (a) probably do not believe this to be at all true or (b) are sputtering with laughter at the thought of me doing either of these things. But I did, I swear!  Care for some photographic proof?

sunrise over Ein Gedi! –the tent is there between the two trees

Do I even need to tell you how lovely it was? The air by the Dead Sea was warm and blustery when we arrived, and after setting up camp, we feasted on our dinner under the stars. In the morning, the sea was calm enough for a swim by the salt-sculpted shore, glittering  like a colony of white sea urchins (or, to a Canadian gal missing home, balls of ice-spiked snow). We heaved our mineral-refreshed selves out in time to do a hike in Ein Gedi under the ferocious heat of the afternoon. I think I might have lost my own body weight in sweat, but it was worth it for the hidden caverns dripping with ferns, the surprise turquoise pools in the desert, and the fantastic view of the valley below from the canyon.

“I need you there for scale!” (Adam helpfully allowing me to showcase the massive desert)

And then back to Tel Aviv! (Rental cars, sadly, do eventually need to be returned.) I spent a couple days with Tali (a friend that Sam and I met in Laos, in case you care to revisit the post: https://canadaschmanada.wordpress.com/2011/12/15/leaving-laos-and-the-voyage-into-vietnam/) lounging on the beach and swapping stories of what we’d been up to since our time together.

we put on our most attractive faces for Hagar and Sam, who couldn’t make it into the shot themselves

By the time I had to get to the airport, I felt that I hadn’t had nearly enough time in Israel, but future plans beckoned. As most of you know (and for those of you who don’t), there was another family reunion waiting for me at my next destination, France.  But who was I supposed to be meeting? What will we be up to? You’ll just have to wait until the next blog post to find out.

From France with love,

A