10 June 2016

WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS


This space is supposed to document our adventures abroad, but we felt our quick weekend in Las Vegas deserved a small post here. Vegas is a four hour flight and a three hour time difference from home, so it counts as a unique travel adventure, right?

We have both visited Las Vegas before but not together and at different ages, so when we were looking to get out of town last week, we decided almost on whim to venture here. We took a late flight out after work on Friday and spent the following two days enjoying the warm weather, cuisine, and nightlife.


Adventures: The Mirage Pool, The Strip, Absinthe 

Takeaways: 1) Vegas when you’re a thirty-something is a much different experience than when you’re a twenty-something. 2) Desert heat is strange. It’s hot but a dry, non-sticky type of hot. 3) There is SO MUCH WALKING required. 4) The distance to locations on The Strip is deceiving. 5) In-N-Out Burger is totally worth the calories. 6) Food and drink prices are twice what we expected. 7) There are some unique jobs here. 8) It's easy to lose track of time everywhere.

Memorable Moments: 1) Sunbathing in 108 degree weather. 2) Paying $25 for a 32oz Bloody Mary. 3) Ubering to In-N-Out Burger. 4) Being overwhelmed with food options at the Bacchanal Buffet. 5) Watching the performers in Absinthe. 6) Winning (small) on the slot machines.











Restaurant Picks:
Lunch::
In-N-Out Burger (for a cheap and tasty West Coast burger, take an Uber)
4888 Dean Martin Dr

LVB Burgers and Bar (try the fried pickles)
The Mirage
3400 S Las Vegas Blvd

Dinner::
Bacchanal Buffet (plan to wait in line, ask about the all-you-care-to-drink upgrades)
Caesars Palace
3570 S Las Vegas Blvd

Mon Ami Gabi (French steakhouse, make a reservation)
Paris Hotel
3655 S Las Vegas Blvd

Recommendations:
1) Uber to the airport.
2) Pack a swimsuit, sunglasses, sunblock, comfortable shoes, Band-Aids, and Alka-Seltzer.
3) Plan on spending twice the amount of money you expected.
4) Purchase alcohol and snacks at Walgreens to save money.
5) Take advantage of the free drinks when gambling.

17 May 2016

CUSCO



Our last stop on our trip to Peru was the city of Cusco. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was the capital of the Inca Empire until the Spanish conquest and now has a unique blend of Inca and Spanish cultures. We had almost two full days here before we started our 23 hour journey home, so we signed up for a city tour to see the important sites and spent our remaining time in the markets searching for alpaca blankets and other souvenirs.

Accommodation:  Maytaq Wasin Boutique Hotel

Adventures: Cathedral, Santo Domingo Monastery/Qoricancha, Saksaywaman, Qenko, Tambomachay

Takeaways: 1) The altitude is no joke. 2) The weather changes rapidly. 3) Cusco is hopping at night! 4) Inca walls have been incorporated into modern buildings, like banks. 5) The Cathedral is an impressive building. 6) The women and children dressed in traditional clothing expect payment for their photos. 7) There are more tourists in Cusco than Lima.




Memorable Moments: 1) Ordering coca tea. 2) Taking in the view of Cusco from Sacsayhuaman. 3) Tasting cuy. 4) Buying so many alpaca blankets! 






^^the 12 angle stone^^



^^sacsayhuaman^^





^^cuy, for photo purposes only^^


Foodstuff:
  • Coca tea. It tastes like edamame and helps with the altitude. Stick to less than 3 glasses a day and avoid at bedtime.
  • Cusquena beer.
  • Cuy, fried or roasted guinea pig. It's a Peruvian delicacy. We weren't fans.

Restaurant Picks:
Breakfast/Lunch::
Jack's Cafe (all day breakfasts, big toastie sandwiches - no credit cards)
Choquechaka 209

Lunch::
Paddy's Irish Pub, "the highest Irish owned Pub on the planet" 
Plaza de Armas, Calle Triunfo 124

Dinner::
Nuna Raymi (Peruvian cuisine)
Calle Triunfo 356

Recommendations:
1) Pack sunblock and a raincoat. Bring warmer clothes for the higher altitude.
2) Acclimate to the altitude before hiking up ruins.

10 May 2016

AGUAS CALIENTES

After much debate when planning our trip to Peru, we decided to stay a night in Aguas Calientes, now known as Machupicchu Pueblo, which lies at the bottom of the valley below the Citadel of Machu Picchu. We wanted to get full use out of our one day ticket to the ruins. We also thought it would be best to spread out the long journey (approximately 3 hours one way) to and from our other hotels in Peru. There was little to do in the town, though, so we spent the day following our Machu Picchu visit mostly waiting for our train to depart.

Accommodation:  Tierra Viva Machu Picchu

Takeaways: 1) The town is small. 2) There is not much to do other than visit the hot springs, shop, and eat/drink at restaurants. 3) Wifi at some of the restaurants and hotels is spotty. 4) If you venture into a restaurant with only locals, order local cuisine.














Foodstuff: The town is full of pizzerias. Try the Machupicchu pizza mostly because this is the most fitting place to eat it. We think the toppings were ham, chorizo, hearts of palm, oregano, and cheese.

Recommendations:
1) Plan to hang out in the town awhile. Hotel check-out was at 10am and our train departed around 4pm.
2) Ask your hotel to transfer your luggage to the train station.
3) Pack a bathing suit if you plan to visit the hot springs. 

03 May 2016

MACHU PICCHU: LOGISTICS



The journey to Machu Picchu wasn't easy. For us, it involved an international flight to Lima, a 1 hour domestic flight to Cusco, an early morning, taxi ride from our hotel to the Ollanta Train Station, a 1.5 hour train ride to Aguas Calientes (Machupicchu Pueblo), and then a 20 minute shuttle bus ride up the mountain to the archaeological site. It was adventure just getting to the citadel. 

Planning this journey seemed overwhelming at first. Each stage of the journey required a reservation and a ticket. Each stage had different upgrades and options, and each stage required more decisions. A few of the questions we faced, our decisions, and the lessons learned are highlighted below. There were probably better and cheaper ways to make the journey happen, but here's what worked for us:

Should we hike the Inca Trail?
We knew right away that we lacked the time necessary (~4 days!) to hike the full Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and immediately stopped researching this option. We found out later some tour companies also offer a 2 day hike that covers a shorter portion of the trail. Note that reservations should be made at least 4 months in advance since permits sell out quickly. Also take a few days to acclimate to the altitude before attempting the hike.

How do we get tickets for the train/bus/admission?
It's probably possible to book all the required tickets independently online, but we used a local tour operator. Our full day tour included the round-trip train ride, all transfers, the entrance fee (the ticket allows multiple same-day entrances), a guided tour of the site, and lunch. We have to admit it was nice to be met by a company representative at each phase of the journey and walked through the next required steps. The guided tour was also helpful since there was little information about the ruins on site.

Do we select the Expedition Train or the Vistadome Train?
The Vistadome train advertises faster service (1.5 hours compared to 2 hours), increased comfort, and complimentary snacks/refreshments. We splurged and upgraded to the Vistadome train, but it was an unnecessary expense.





^^morning snack on the train to MP^^





^^about that baggage policy^^






What about the train baggage policy?
Our tour instructions indicated that only a backpack was allowed on board the train to Machu Picchu, and we should leave our luggage at our hotel before embarking on the journey. We found out later there are storage options at the Ollanta Train Station and carry-on size luggage can be brought on the train for an overnight stay in Aguas Calientes.

Should we eat lunch in town or at Restaurant Tinkuy (on the mountain)?
We paid the premium for the buffet lunch at Tinkuy Restaurant since it's located next to the Machu Picchu entrance. We wanted to take advantage of our one-day ticket and easily return to the ruins after lunch rather than spend time transferring to and from the restaurant in town. It worked for us, but most people in our group were done exploring the site after the morning tour.

Note if you eat lunch in town and want to return to the the ruins, you'll need to purchase another set of round-trip bus tickets.



Should we stay the night?
We spent the night in Aguas Calientes after our tour. We wanted to get full use out of our one-day ticket to the ruins and see the site outside the peak tourist hours. We also thought it would be best to spread the journey to and from MP over two days. This worked as planned and allowed us to view the ruins at our own pace, but we wasted an entire day waiting for our train to depart the next afternoon. We'd consider the day trip next time.

Good luck planning your journey!
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