Summer Vibes

When I think of summer, I think of Greece. 

Because Greece is the only place that seems to shine in the summer as it slows down.

Summer in Chicago, or Calgary, or Los Angeles means more – more drinking, more activity, more festivals, more plans. 

But in Greece, summer means more of doing less. Summers here are simpler, slower more sensual. 

The air gets hot. But it’s ok because the hottest parts of the day are spent napping, with cicadas buzzing in the background. Everything gets so quiet in the afternoon that you actually feel like the world has stopped for a second to let you breath.

Near the water everything smells fresh despite the heat. The sea breeze is the top note, with middle notes of burning sand, and finally the fig and citrus trees overladen with fruit releasing a brightness through the palette. 

It’s of course too hot to eat heavy food so instead we eat thoroughly red tomatoes that taste like candy, and cucumbers that taste like gulps of ice cold water. We eat fish fresh from the ocean drenched in plive oil and lemon. We eat bright fruits, and juicy watermelon for dessert. And because it’s summer maybe you have a frappe or a gelato too, because why not?

It finally starts to cool off a bit when the sun goes down, but not so much that you would ever need a jacket, just enough that you stop sweating. It’s perfect weather to sit with people outside and talk, drink, laugh, and eat for hours. You could go dancing, I suppose, but I would want to be outside and as close to the sea as possible.

Summer is my favorite season, but the way of life in a Greek summer by the water clears my skin, and brings me peace so that’s the version summer I’ve chosen to love the most. 

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Crete. A typical Greek summer lunch.

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Define Your Own Experiences

I’m a huge food person and one of my favorite things to do is try new restaurants and new types of food. I’m up for anything, and I mean ANYTHING. Strange animal parts, flavor combinations, texture foods, you name it, and I’ll try it at least once.

Every so often, a friend will take me to a place I haven’t been to but they have. I’ll find something that sounds interesting on the menu and they might say something like “Oh that’s not very good, it’s overhyped.”

A simple response might be to just change what I was going to order or ask what they recommend, but whenever I find myself in a situation like this I treat it like a crucial juncture – am I going to let this person define my experience for me?

 

I haven’t tried this dish, maybe I read online that it is really good and I’m super interested. Should I just defer to my friend because they offered their opinion?

My answer? No, I shouldn’t. It was something I’ve been wanting to try and I don’t care if they didn’t like it, I still want to try it so I can form my OWN opinions.

This is a simple restaurant example, but the idea can be extrapolated to much larger and more formative experiences. If you travel to another country with someone and you’re excited to visit museums and cultural sites but all they want to do is go out all night and sleep away the day, one of you is going to end up defining the experience in a negative way for the other and that’s not fair to either of you.

An even bigger example from my own life was when I moved to Calgary. Because I immediately moved in with a boyfriend who was actually from that city, nearly all of my experiences were defined by him. He showed me how to navigate the city. He drove us to the mountains. He taught me how to ski and how to mountain bike. He showed me his favorite restaurants and bars and his friend’s favorite spots.

At first, this was great! A built-in tour guide. A person I can ask questions to and who will gladly take me to spots they already know are good.

Unfortunately, I realized too late that this is not a sustainable way of moving to a new place. I had failed to define my own experience of Calgary. I spent almost a year there before I really started pushing for trying things that were new to the both of us and by then it was too late. I felt that I had no agency over the city. I didn’t have anything that I had discovered and defined for myself and it really messed with my perception of that city and how successful I could be there.

Maybe some of you already know this, but for me, it was a huge lesson in self-ownership. Partners, friends, family, co-workers will hand you their unsolicited opinions and advice all the time, sometimes to your benefit. But I’ve discovered it’s important to realize when your entire experience is being defined by thoughts from another rather than your own exploration and decision.

Own yourself, and own your experiences, because if you don’t, other people will do it for you.

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Miyajima Island, Japan. A trip I took alone and although I met people along the way, was defined by my own experience.

Mexico Travel Guide

At the beginning of the month, I got to go to Mexico to thaw myself out after experiencing my first winter in Canada. As neither my boyfriend or I had ever been to Mexico, we obviously went as touristy as possible. We hit Cancun, Tulum, and Merida in the span of about 8 full days.

CANCUN: As soon as we landed in Cancun, we were not fans. Cancun is great to go to if you’re looking for a timeshare or if you’re looking to just party. Neither was high on our list. We stayed in a cute little apartment on the Ocean which was really nice but all the places near the water are enormous resorts, and it kinda kills the vibe of the place. Luckily, our first full day wasn’t spent at the resorts, it was spent on a tour to see Chichen Itza!

 

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The gorgeous view from our Cancun Apartment

 

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Fresh fruit and coffee by the ocean for breakfast

We spent all day driving, experiencing Mayan culture, and visiting the archaeological site as well as the Ik Kil Cenote. We did use a service for this tour, and honestly, we don’t really recommend it. It’s easy enough to get around on your own if you work out the bus system and you save yourself the sales pitches to buy souvenirs and the overkill talks the guides provide. We did learn some cool stuff, but not enough to offset the lack of independence.This day was pretty much the highlight, as the next day we just hung around the beach and the resort since it rained off and on in the afternoon.TULUM: But the next day we were off to Tulum. Tulum was AMAZING. So amazing, that we want to come back to Mexico to only go to Tulum. We stayed in a beachside cabana right on the ocean and it was absolute HEAVEN. The beaches were much better than Cancun as well:  Softer sand, clearer water, and way less people. Furthermore, all the hotels in Tulum are cute little cabana style spots, rather than huge all-inclusive resorts. You can rent bicycles to get around, and the general atmosphere is much younger and relaxed than Cancun. Tulum also has it’s own killer set of Mayan ruins right near the water so it really doesn’t get much better than that.

 

 

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The Great Pyramid of Chichen Itza (and my personal 4th wonder of the world!)

 

MERIDA: Unfortunately, we only booked a few days in Tulum, before we were off to Merida. Merida is the largest city in the Yucatan, and has a much different vibe than Cancun or Tulum. Merida was probably the only genuine look we got at what most of Mexico probably feels like. It was a much larger city which means crowds, music, and more historical sites. The city operates as most cities do, but also has a quaint collection of Spanish colonial buildings and little museums to explore. We originally chose to visit Merida to use it as a jumping off point for the ruins of Uxmal.

 

 

 

 

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Uxmal is another set of Mayan ruins, similar to Chichen Itza, except for the fact that the site is probably triple the size, the ruins are a lot better preserved, and the area is infinitely less crowded. We spent the whole morning exploring the ruins and we were just in awe by what this civilization was able to create hundreds of years ago. However, our Uxmal day, was the day I got some food poisoning, so I wasn’t able to enjoy it to the fullest extent and I was basically down for the count afterwards (more on that later), but our last day in Merida was just spent wandering the Spanish colonial buildings, and people watching in the main squares.

 

 

We returned to Cancun to finish out our trip, and we were originally going to visit Isla Mujeres to go diving, but it rained on us again and we were confined to the hotel.

All in all, I absolutely adored Tulum as a beach getaway and I would love to explore more of Mexico. We heard great things about Mexico City, but didn’t make it all the way there. I highly recommend sticking to local shops within the towns of Cancun and Tulum as they are way less expensive and have better traditional Mexican food than the restaurants geared towards tourists. However, we did find a phenomenal breakfast spot next to our hotel in Tulum called Ojo de Agua with incredible Acai Bowls and coffee.

The easiest and cheapest way to get around the peninsula was definitely by bus. There are bus stations in every town and it’s pretty simple to get a ticket for less than $20 to get to a whole other city. However, I do recommend brushing up on your Spanish before you try this, as most local places will speak very limited English. Also, make sure you have peso coins with you at all times as the bathrooms in public spaces often cost 5 pesos to use.

I would definitely recommend Mexico to anyone (even though I was probably the only one who hadn’t been at this point), and I unquestionably recommend getting away from the resorts. They are decent as a place to relax, but as far as getting the best bang for your buck or experiencing anything truly Mexican, they just can’t provide any truly unique experiences. The Yucatan is intensely built up for tourists so just be aware that people will try to sell you timeshares, tours, and guides at every turn and you don’t always need them. We will ABSOLUTELY be returning to Mexico and I am so disappointed it took me so long to visit in the first place!

If you have any Mexico recommendations, please share! I can’t wait to go back and experience more of the country.

For Business or for Pleasure?

This year, January will end up being roughly 4 1/2 weeks, and for 2 1/2 of those, I will be travelling for work. The nature of my job means that I usually work from home, but about twice a month (this month is more than average), I have to travel to visit clients. Business trips intimidated me quite a bit at the start of my career since I was never quite sure what to bring or how to act, HOWEVER, I’ve been on enough of them now that I think it’s safe to say I have them on lock.

Step 1: Prep

Travelling is already stressful, but once you add in the fact that you’re seeing a new office or new client site that you’re not familiar with to do your job, then you can really drive yourself into severe overpacking mode trying to prepare. If this is your first time visiting this place, bring all the tech you’ve got*. Every HDMI cord, adapter, charger, extension cord, etc. because you might not have the leisure of walking into a modern facility. My clients are split on this, some are very modern and can provide all these things, and some barely even have a conference room, let alone wifi connection.

In terms of personal items, obviously bring business clothes, but try and limit your outfits so that they all go with one or two pairs of shoes. Shoes are the real culprit when you’re trying to fit everything into a carry-on. Also, try and bring one casual (but still classy) outfit for dinners with colleagues or if you want to do any exploring on your own (this is usually my travel outfit). For toiletries, start keeping a stock of deluxe samples and small bottles to use on these trips since hotel toiletries can often leave a lot to be desired.

Step 2: Logistics

As I alluded to above, I recommend travelling with only carry-on luggage. I may one-day change my tune about this, but today is not this day. First off, travelling with only a carry-on means you can’t overpack too much, and secondly, it means the airline cannot lose your luggage. I do not trust the airlines to handle my bag and I cannot imagine anything worse than arriving on a work trip with none of the things I need to do my job.

Other logistics are pretty straightforward. Unless you work for a HUGE company, you probably won’t be getting picked up in an Escalade and staying in five-star hotels. So if you are responsible for your own bookings, Hyatt, Hilton, and Marriott affiliates are usually safe bets for accommodations, and you can probably get away with booking Economy Premium flights at most.

Step 3: Arrival

Alright, you’ve arrived at your destination safely, and with all your stuff, so how do you act the first time? This obviously depends on why and where you’ve travelled, but the biggest tip I can give for this is to walk in the front door with confidence and start introducing yourself to everyone right away. It honestly took me a few trips to work up to this since I was so scared to do anything wrong I would wait until my boss introduced me. This is fine but it did not do my credibility any favors. Like always, confidence is absolutely key.

Step 4: Small Talk

You will inevitably have to make small talk. Whether it’s right at the start, at lunch, at a break, it WILL HAPPEN. I absolutely LOATHE small talk but you have to find some way to make it work for you. Because I work in a field where almost everyone is substantially older than me, I will either ask what they do for fun, or I will ask about their kids because EVERYBODY with kids loves to talk about them. If you can get the other person really going on a topic, it is less work for you!

If you can make the four elements I’ve listed here as breezy as possible then you are home free! Oh wait…you still have a job to do right? But honestly, that is the easy part. You already know how to do your job, the hard part is doing it in a new place surrounded by new people. If you can make the travelling and transition as easy as possible, there’s really not much else to worry about.

If you have any questions about business trips or any tips of your own, please message or comment below! I am always looking for ways to make these less stressful!

 

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PC: The ever judgmental Kiki Moussetis

 

*Unless explicitly told what tech to bring beforehand

Get Out of Your Comfort Zone, NOW

If you’ve ever spent even five minutes on my blog, you’d probably figure out that I absolutely LOVE to travel. Although I can’t travel as often as I’d like, every time I do, I try to go to places that challenge me. I’ve shared travel guides for my last couple trips on this blog, but recently I started working with the website unanchor.com to release far more informative guides on their platform, and my first guide is finally published!

Ok, you caught me, this post is partially about self-promotion (yes, go look at my itinerary, here and here!), but the real reason I’m writing a whole post about this rather than just sharing the link on facebook is because my first guide is a 3-day guide to Shanghai. The thing about Unanchor is that they want to work with people who have spent a substantial amount of time in the place they are writing a guide for which means I had to have spent at least three months in the place I was going to create an itinerary for.

About three years ago (omg it’s already been three years, what is happening), I spent the year abroad in Shanghai. But I’ve also spent that amount of time in different places in Greece, as well as different cities around California, Illinois, and now in Canada. However, I picked Shanghai because China is one of those countries that is never on anybody’s bucket list and that makes me infinitely sad.

Every time I’ve ever asked somebody where in the world they’d want to go, they usually pick a place in Europe. Sometimes I meet a more adventurous person and they say countries like South Africa or Thailand, but the answer has NEVER been China. In fact, when I told people I was going to China, everyone’s first response was “why?”, and that just killed me. My goal when I travel is to get OUT of my comfort zone, not to stay in it, and how many times in my life was I going to have the opportunity to spend a whole year in China hmm?? Europe is the easy answer for Americans because it’s closer than Asia and it’s easier to handle. Everyone speaks English, and people just feel like they will be safer and more comfortable since they know more about European countries than any other continent.

When I would bring up China, people would shrug and say “well, I guess the Great Wall would be cool to see”. China is so much more than that! (although the Great Wall is pretty incredible), and people don’t even realize. Part of this ignorance is due to the fact that between our school systems and our media, Americans get a pretty shitty education when it comes to any countries outside of North America and Europe, and fear of the unknown can have far-reaching consequences.

SO, my first guide is dedicated to combating that fear. The itinerary is for three days spent in Shanghai and covers a whole gambit of Museums, traditional sites, amazing restaurants, and clubs to give people an idea of just how cosmopolitan and entertaining Shanghai really is. There is also an appendix section chock full of information to make going to Shanghai seem far less daunting. I’ve added common phrases (in Mandarin and English), how to get around using public transport and taxis, cultural norms to be aware of, the best areas to stay, and so much more.

If you’ve ever been interested in visiting China, even just as a passing thought, PLEASE JUST GO. I promise you’ll love it and getting out of your comfort zone is so much more rewarding than staying in it. Plus, you’ll always have time and energy for the easy destinations. NOW is the time to challenge yourself with new experiences.

If you want to check out the actual guide, click here. But if you have general questions about Shanghai or my time there, feel free to comment or message me, I love talking about that experience!

 

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The beautiful Shanghai Skyline; Feature photo is of Nanjing Road in Shanghai

 

Dear L.A.

I’ve lived in Los Angeles and the surrounding areas (Malibu, Thousand Oaks, Tujunga, DTLA) for about three years now (not all in a row, but close), and I can safely say I have a pretty harsh love/hate relationship with this place. L.A. is ugly, has boring architecture, the traffic is the WORST, and there really are a ton of people here trying to be famous or get discovered at every ice cream shop, club, and street corner.

However, even though I can say a million horrible things about Los Angeles, I also have a few good thoughts on this place and as I prepare to abandon it (only three more days!) in favor of the Great White North (aka Canada), I thought I’d write a little letter to Los Angeles to thank it for how it has contributed to who I am today.

Dear L.A.,

We have been through a lot together. My whole college career, internships, amazing friends. But I’ve known since the day I set foot in this town that it would be a temporary living space for me, and now the day has come for us to part ways.

I’m not going to sugarcoat this for you, you’re not the prettiest city I’ve ever had the pleasure of courting, but certain parts of you are incredible. I can’t deny that your proximity to the Pacific doesn’t make me justify your numerous other flaws everytime I set foot in that warm sand and get salt water in my hair.

Ugh and the food! You do so many things so well: Mexican, Chinese, Italian. You have a million dessert shops, each offering better cupcakes or ice cream than the last. And the best part? All of it is gorgeous because you know half your revenue is from being reposted on Instagram.

You’ve also taught me much about taking care of myself. Although you can get a little dramatic with all your overpriced juice cleanses and fancy gym memberships, you really showed me that it is ok to put a priority on self-care. You gave me all sorts of healthy eating options and introduced me to heaven in bowl form: acai bowls. You also made sure I never got bored exercising and offered me my choice of many boxing, yoga, swimming, and hiking prospects to stay fit.

And even though you can be way too expensive and way too superficial, you were also the place where I met some of my absolute best friends.  These are the friends that taught me to be more open minded, more social, and more generous. They taught me it’s ok to depend on others and to be vulnerable with them. They are friends that I can laugh, cry, or be silent with. The kind that truly change you as a person, shape your life, and stay with you forever, and for that, I will always be grateful.

See you again soon L.A.

Love, Melina

 

 

Peru Travel Guide: Lima & TIPS

If you haven’t read the first two parts of my Peruvian adventure (INCLUDING MACCHU PICCHU!!), then click here or here!

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At last, we have reached the conclusion of the reminiscence of my Peru trip. Because we bought round trip tickets from LAX to Lima, we obviously had to conclude our trip in the Peruvian capital city. Although there are many museums and churches to see, we decided to keep our last two relaxed and stayed in the surprisingly beautiful, beachside area called Miraflores.

We were told that parts of Lima can be a bit unsavory but that Miraflores tends to be where all the expatriates live and is the safest area. We stayed in a private room in a cute little hostel minutes from the main square and spent much of the day just walking around. The first day we went to the LARCOMAR mall which looks out over the ocean and consists of beautiful restaurants and high-end shops.

The second day, we walked all the way along the coastline to the next neighborhood called Barranco, to stroll through the colorful houses and visit the Bridge of Sighs. Unfortunately, my travel partner had some food poisoning so we couldn’t push too hard during our stay, but honestly, a couple relaxing days were the perfect way to end an incredible vacation.

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Now for some TIPS on traveling in Peru!

  1. In Cusco, most places speak English. In Lima, it is much less common, even in the touristy areas, so brush up on the basics if you plan on spending a lot of time there. (If nothing else, learn how to ask for the bathroom!)
  2. Peruvian currency is the Sol. One Sol equals about 30 cents in the US.
  3. For food, make sure to try the ceviche, the Lomo Saltado, the cuy, and alpaca meat.

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4. You can negotiate for EVERYTHING. My boyfriend even got five soles off a cappuccino at a restaurant. Just go for it.

5. The water is not potable in Peru so make sure you buy bottled water from the small shops.

6. If you want traditional Peruvian chocolate or Coffee, buy it from the supermarket, not the tourist market, it will be WAY cheaper.

7. To get actual alpaca material, go to either a textile store OR a real alpaca shop. The street vendors will tell you their material is alpaca but it is not! REAL alpaca has a lot of weight to it and feels cool to the touch.

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8. The weather can be super volatile in Peru since the geography changes so drastically between places. Make sure you have a warm jacket, and a rain jacket just in case.

9. Some longer trips can be amazing, like the Salkantay Trek or Rainbow mountain, but they take a whole day or multiple days and require some advance planning. So do some research beforehand to make sure you get to do the excursions you want!

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10. When doing an excursion (like Macchu Picchu) where you have to leave early in the morning, discuss breakfast arrangements with your hostel. Many hostels realize that tourists must get up super early for these events and are willing to pack you a breakfast! Don’t miss out!

Overall, our time in Peru was amazing! All the different places we visited had their own attributes and the sites we visited had unparalleled energy — you just can’t beat Macchu Picchu! This was our first time in South America and of course, we were nervous, but Peru truly exceeded our expectations and now we can’t wait to go back!

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Peru Travel Guide: Macchu Picchu

Alright! Now for the good stuff. Peru is best known for the sacred Incan ruins of Macchu Picchu, and I, like everyone else was drawn to Peru for this bucket list location.

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Ollantaytambo Fortress Ruins

There are a couple ways to do Macchu Picchu, including the famed four-day hike, but we did NOT have time for that. If you don’t hike, you have to somehow make your way to the town of Aguas Calientes which is the jumping off point to get to the ruins. From Cusco, you can take a train or cab all the way to Aguas Calientes OR you can get a cab/bus to the town of Ollantaytambo first and take the train from there. We opted for the latter since Ollantaytambo had some ruins to explore as well. Definitely grateful for that decision because some of our best days were in this little town. There are amazing terraced ruins built into surrounding mountains and we had one of our favorite meals at Apu Veronica, just outside the main ruins.

 

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Ollantaytambo Ruins

From Ollantaytambo, we took the VistaDome train to Aguas Calientes. There are a couple train options between the two locations, and we opted for the VistaDome since it has huge windows all along the sides and the roof of the train for viewing the insane jungle and mountain scenery as you approach Aguas Calientes.

 

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Scenery from the Hot Springs site

 

Once in Aguas Calientes, don’t expect too much. It is a total tourist trap and everyone knows it. Every restaurant serves the same food and every shop is selling the same trinkets. However, the scenery is INCREDIBLE so if you have some extra time, I recommend hitting up the hot springs that the town is named for (Aguas Calentes=Hot Waters) or getting a cafe con leche and people watching against the gorgeous backdrop.

When the day of reckoning is upon you, you’ll need to get up at about 4 am to get in line for the buses up to Macchu Picchu. The first bus leaves the station at 6 am, but since everyone wants to get up there for the sunrise, the line is outrageously long! We arrived at 5 am, and there were already hundreds of people in front of us. Luckily the tourism industry in Peru is prepared for this, and they run the buses pretty much one right after the other to accommodate the crowds. Getting up for the sunrise is WORTH IT. We got super lucky with the weather and the mist was clearing up as soon as we got to the top, the sun came out and we had the most AMAZING view of the ruins! There are honestly no words to describe how spectacular it is to be up there before the crowds with the ruins almost to yourself to admire in the morning light.

 

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Macchu FREAKING Picchu!

 

It is easy and relatively cheap to book a tour guide to accompany you at the ruins, but we chose not to get one since we are stingy as fuck, and also so we could move at our own pace. Make sure you do the entire site — walk down below where the remains of buildings were and go all the way behind to where the Sungate view is (There are arrows and guides to help you out). You can also pay for an additional hike when you book your Macchu Picchu ticket for either Macchu Picchu Mountain or Huayna Picchu. If you want to do Huayna Picchu (the mountain present in all the typical photos of the site), you’ll need to book it far in advance. Macchu Picchu Mountain, however, is less popular but offers a higher vantage point. We ended up purchasing that one and it was a brutal hike, so be warned! And bring TONS of water!

 

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Macchu Picchu Lower Ruins

 

We spent a full seven hours up at the site exploring and we covered every inch of the ruins. Macchu Picchu is a Wonder of the World and we wanted to make sure we took full advantage! The pictures speak for themselves, and I honestly cannot recommend making this trip enough. We should’ve saved this site for last, but alas, our pocketbooks and logistics dictated that we return to Lima for a short stop before returning home. Stay tuned for the next post where I review Lima and offer tips for traveling in Peru! If you missed my review on Cusco, click here!

 

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Macchu Picchu Lower Ruins

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The dawn breaking over Macchu Picchu

 

 

Peru Travel Guide: DRINK THE TEA

Even though Peru falls within the time zones of the U.S. the trip down there is still enormously tiring. We booked a nine-hour nonstop flight from LAX to Lima and then had booked a flight a few hours after landing to go straight to Cusco.

Cusco is HIGH. Literally. Cusco proper sits at some 11,100 feet of elevation, and let me tell you, coming from the ocean village of Los Angeles, it can be a shock to your system. It is definitely harder to breathe and you will be able to feel your heart beating harder in order to pump blood to your oxygen deprived extremities.

The easiest way to get from the Cusco airport to wherever you need to go is by taxi. Of course, be wary of the taxi drivers in case of scams or safety concerns, but feel free to negotiate with them. A taxi from the airport to the main square should cost you between 20 and 30 soles (Between $6-10 USD). Agree upon the fare BEFORE getting in the taxi as the fares are not metered and you don’t want to arrive at your destination to find out that you’re being charged double.

In Cusco, I recommend staying at the Wild Rover Backpacker’s hostel, it has amazing views of the whole city, free breakfast, great wifi, and the best common areas (ping pong tables!). Furthermore, there is a bar on the property for any late night shenanigans, but it also keeps the party out of the room for anyone [ME] who prefers to sleep. They also have free Coca tea which helps a ton with adjusting to the altitude. I had at least two cups a day (along with liters of water) and the altitude never bothered me again after that first day.

 

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The view from the hostel…

 

Cusco is the ultimate jumping off point for most of the tourist sites Peru has to offer. It was the epicenter of the Incan empire and has the history to prove it. There are tons of travel agencies all over the city offering day trips and tours to all the different sites. Michael and I ended up doing two relatively low-key ones.

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Sacsayhuaman – This huge stone behind me weighs over 128 tons!

The first was the Cusco City tour (you can find this one anywhere so I’m not even going to bother recommending a travel agency). It costs thirty soles per person (a little less than $10 USD), and contrary to the name, this tour actually takes you around the archaeological sites closest to Cusco, not around the city itself (there are other tours for that). We covered the ancient fortress site of Sacsayhuaman (sounds like “sexy woman” if you say it too fast) which is a prime example of Incan building strategies. The site consists of huge stones, we’re talking over 100 tons, cut to fit perfectly together; the site took over 77 years to build with over 30,000 laborers! The tour includes Quenqo which is the site of the ancient Incan calendar and a ritual site for actual animal and human sacrifice. We also covered Puku Pukara, a small ancient rest stop, and Tambomochay or the “Incan Baths” a picturesque waterfall site.

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Tambomochay

The second tour was covered a little bit more area. We wanted to do the Maras — Moray tour. Although this tour also was a half day, it took us much farther outside the city limits of Cusco. Moray is an ancient agricultural testing site made up of terraced concentric circles. The Incans used it to try out different crops and created over 3000 different strains of potato! (Why anyone needs that many different potatoes is beyond me…). Maras, on the other hand, is a small town that leads into the Salineras salt flats which have been producing salt since before the Incan empire. The water that feeds the flats is 70% salt and 30% water, and the flats produce black, pink, and white salt. We didn’t get to spend much time here but it was honestly one of the highlights of the whole trip.

 

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The salt flats at Salineras

 

Within Cusco itself, there are also plenty of sites to see. The main square alone has two cathedrals that are worth a peek inside, one is actually a museum, and through ambling along the tourist districts, you should be able to find many other little churches and squares. The San Pedro market should also be at the top of any Cusco visitor’s list as one can do literally all of their shopping at this market. Not only do they sell blankets, socks, jewelry and the like, they also sell coffee, chocolate, and have an indoor eating area with many different vendors selling their specialty at an incredibly cheap price (between $2-6 USD).

 

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The cathedral in the Plaza de Mayor

 

As far as food is concerned though, I only recommend eating at the market once because there are some far better options outside the market. First off, get your hands on some street meat. There will be ladies on the street selling enormous skewers of all different kinds of meat. We preferred the alpaca and because each skewer has a whole potato on the end of it, you can eat an entire meal for five soles! ($1.50 USD). If you’re looking for something more formal, our favorite breakfast spot was Jack’s Cafe. They have great Western and Peruvian breakfast options for a very good price and they give you tons of food! For dinner, we cannot recommend Pacha Papa highly enough. I had the roasted trout, Michael had the lamb shoulder, and we shared the whole roasted Guinea Pig and a traditional Peruvian Quinoa dessert. Everything here was AMAZING! It is so good, in fact, that you actually might want to make a reservation to make sure you get a table! On the other hand, there is a ton of Italian food in Peru, especially in Cusco, and I cannot stress enough that you SHOULD NOT try any of it. We tried to get Italian (pasta, pizza) a few times and each time it was awful. I’m a terrible cook and I could’ve made better pasta than these places, so beware. On the whole, the Peruvian dish ‘Lomo Saltado’ was my favorite. I got this a few times in Cusco and elsewhere in Peru and it is solid. It consists of marinated beef with red onions and tomatoes served with french fries and rice. Delicious every single time.

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The Roasted Guinea Pig!

Michael and I spent the bulk of our trip in Cusco and it was definitely worth the extra time. The people here are helpful and kind, and for the most part, speak English! You’re able to negotiate for everything you buy and there is so much history to experience within the city and beyond. If you are interested in ancient empires or ancient architecture, Cusco is a MUST. However, everyone knows the real reason tourists flock to Peru each year. The best parts of the trip are yet to come, so stay tuned for Part 2!

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How to Travel as a Couple without Killing Eachother

I recently went to Peru with my amazing boyfriend (travel guides coming soon!) and I have to confess, I was a little nervous to travel with him. We had met while traveling separately but we had never really done a trip together as a couple and this was an important step for me. Traveling to new places is a passion of mine and I knew I couldn’t be with somebody who was a terrible travel partner (not that I’m a saint but you know what I mean). However, after doing this trip I realized that there are some lessons we BOTH learned about traveling together that make things a lot easier.

If you’re bringing drugs, bring lots: It is not unlikely to feel under the weather or even get sick while traveling. If you know you always get indigestion, for example, and bring medication for it, bring twice as much because you never know if you’re significant other will need some. This came in handy multiple times throughout our Peru trip. I knew I would need Alka-Seltzer for my stomach but I brought a lot and lo and behold, my boyfriend ended up getting food poisoning towards the end of the trip and needed something to calm his stomach. Likewise, my boyfriend gets headaches so he brought a lot of Advil, and I ended up needing a few for an untimely sprained ankle.

Recognize each other’s limits: Each of you will have different capabilities and limits when it comes to traveling and it is important to not push your partner too hard, and also to be vocal if something is too much for you. My boyfriend and I were pretty good at this but only because we were both outspoken about when we were struggling. For example, I cannot sleep on airplanes or in airports and my boyfriend can sleep anywhere. So after traveling for over twenty-four hours, my boyfriend knew I was zonked and we took it easy that day. On the flip side, while we were hiking Macchu Picchu Mountain we ran out of the water and it hit my boyfriend way harder than it hit me so I knew to be quick about pictures and get him water as soon as possible. It is extremely important to be aware of what your partner is feeling so you can make sure you both can enjoy yourselves.

 

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Macchu Picchu of course – this day took a lot of prep and compromise

 

Be Decisive: There will be endless decisions to make on a trip, even once you’ve already planned it. Where should we eat? Should we go to those ruins today or tomorrow? How should we get there? Is this too expensive? And on and on and on. Nothing wastes precious travel time like being indecisive. We ran into this issue a couple times, especially where food was concerned. Tourist towns often have a million different restaurants that all serve the same thing. This should make it easier to choose, right? WRONG. My boyfriend and I would go back and forth with the whole ‘I don’t care where we eat…actually no not this place…’ type dialogue until one of us [ME] snapped because they were so hungry they couldn’t take it anymore. We had to actively have a conversation about when we actually mean we’re indifferent to certain decisions as opposed to speaking out immediately if we have a preference. This smoothed things out considerably for the rest of the trip.

Be open-minded: This one should go without saying, and most people who are love traveling in the first place possess this quality, but every so often you end up traveling with someone who sticks their nose up at everything and would rather order room service than go exploring a new place. This person SUCKS to travel with. Don’t be that person, don’t date that person, and don’t go on a trip with them if you can help it. If you’re enamored with traveling and experiencing new things, this person will kill your vibe SO FAST. Neither my boyfriend nor I are like this, so it wasn’t a problem for us, but we witnessed other couples with this dynamic. The worst kind of travel partner is the one that says ‘no’ too often. When you travel you should open yourself up to what that place can teach you, and those with a bad attitude have no interest in learning and you should not let them ruin your fun!

 

Ultimately, traveling with another person, especially a romantic partner, should be tons of fun. However, in order to make it an amazing trip all around, you both have to go into it with open eyes and a willingness to compromise. Sure you can plan down to every last detail if you want, but I can assure you that attitude will EITHER kill the energy of the whole trip, OR something will go wrong and your plans will have been for naught and you’ll have to work together anyways. And to be really frank, if your trip sucks, maybe you just aren’t right for each other. Awk. (Luckily my boyfriend and I rocked it and realized we are more perfect for each other than ever! Sickening, I know.)

 

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Exploring Sacsayhuaman