20 things a non-wine drinker learned about wine in Mendoza.

As friends and family know, I’m not much of a drinker and especially not wine. Yes, I am well aware that it is a required taste. I’ve been trying to ‘acquire’ it for 20 years. I think it’s fair to say it’s just not for me. None-the-less, when you are traveling in Argentina, wine is a given at every meal and a winery tour is a must! It is such an important part of their history and economy that it was only fair for me to give it a try. While on my trip with Intrepid Travel, we did a half day wine tasting tour that visited three Bodegas (or wineries) in Mendoza. The three Bodegas were: Alta Vista, Dante Robino and Lagarde. We started around 9am and by 10am we were three tasting glasses in! Each winery gave us a tour and overview of their process and then served us three to four of their mid-range wines to test. Proudly, I tasted all nine wines that were put in front of me. I really disliked most of them, but a couple of the whites or sparkling wines were ok. I even had seconds on one of the ones at Dante Robino! Having said that, there were wine lovers in my group who enjoyed every single glass, plus the remainder of several of my glasses. Needless to say, everyone was pretty happy by 1:30pm when we finished at the last winery and headed to lunch.

Alta Vista Winery, Mendoza, Argentina
Alta Vista Winery, Mendoza, Argentina

Here’s what I learned about wines during my tour.
1. All grapes are the same color on the inside. The skin is the difference in the color.

2. The amount of dryness in a wine is directly related to the sugar content. It ranges from Extra brut, brut, sec and demi sec.

3. Vineyards are good up to approximately 100 years.

4. The older the tree, the smaller the harvest, but the better quality of the grapes.

5. The type of ground that crops are planted in, determines the flavor of the wine. Rocky, earthy, sandy areas all provide different flavors.

6. Mendoza is best known for Malbecs (red).

7. Sparkling wines made with natural carbonation have very fine bubbles that raise up the glass in stems and collect along the edges of the glass. Cheaper sparkling wines that are carbonated artificially have larger bubbles (like soda).

8. In the Mendoza region, they have very few natural elements that will harm the grapes. However, when a cold front and warm front meet, they often create hail that can range from golf ball size to baseball size. Not only does the hail knock the fruit off the trees, but it can also damage the tree and cause it to not produce well going forward.

9. The crops are sometimes covered in netting. This is to protect the fruit from hail (not from birds).

10. Red and white wines go through almost the same fermentation process, but because white wines are the color of the grape, they get to final product more quickly. The reds have to have the skins added in for four hours (rose) to several days for a darker color.

11. Wines used to be stored in very large oak barrels but have been moved to smaller oak barrels to improve efficiency. With more litres in the large barrels, it takes longer for the oak flavor to infuse through the entire liquid. By moving to smaller barrels, the oak flavor dispurses more quickly and can be moved to market more quickly.

12. The oak barrels are used once, first, for the best wines. Second for the next best and third for a market version. The barrels are purchased for close to 1000 Euros each and then sold to be made into furniture or other decorations for approximately 25 Euros each after their three-year cycle. They are sometimes sold to other producers of whiskey or rye as well, but these are not made in Mendoza.

Lagarde Winery, Mendoza, Argentina
Lagarde Winery, Mendoza, Argentina
Dante Robino Winery, Mendoza, Argentina
Dante Robino Winery, Mendoza, Argentina

13. Many of the best Argentinian wines are not exported at all. They produce a lower amount of these wines and keep them within the country for consumption. Many of the wines we tasted cannot be found in Canada.

14. Red wines are usually more expensive than whites because it is a longer process to make reds.

15. Lagarde makes one of top four wines in the country.

Lagarde Winery, Mendoza, Argentina
Lagarde Winery, Mendoza, Argentina
Lagarde Winery, Mendoza, Argentina
Lagarde Winery, Mendoza, Argentina

16. Henry (by Lagarde) is a blend of four different grapes and takes five years to produce. Each of the wines goes through the fermentation process individually and then they are mixed together in the end. Henry is well known outside of Argentina, but is produced in low quantities, more for awards than for sale. The quality of the wine brings prestige and integrity to the winery. They focus on the quality of this wine and not so much the profit.

17. Mendoza is situated at about 900 meters above sea level. Growing grapes at altitude works well because there are no problems with insects ruining the crops, so no pesticides are needed. However, they struggle with little rainfall to irrigate the crops and hail storms can ruin a crop within minutes.

Alta Vista Winery, Mendoza, Argentina
Alta Vista Winery, Mendoza, Argentina
Alta Vista Winery, Mendoza, Argentina
Alta Vista Winery, Mendoza, Argentina

18. When storing bottles in the cellar, they allow dust to pile on the bottles because it protects the wine from the light.

19. Use beer caps instead of corks during processing to make sure that no oxygen seeps in and that humidity (or lack thereof) doesn’t dry cork out and leave bits in the wine.

20. Most wines still have sediment in them when they are first bottled. Wineries will store bottles with the neck down and do a ¼ turn of bottle daily, or weekly, to help the sediment go to the neck. They then freeze the neck & pop out the frozen chunk then re-cork the top, leaving a sediment-free and clear wine for drinking. Seems like I learned a lot about wine making. Interested in knowing more? Well, you’ll just have to contact me and I can set you up on a fantastic Argentina trip!

The wine tour that I enjoyed was part of a week long trip with the wonderful folks at Intrepid Travel traveling from Santiago, Chile to Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Vina and Valpo – Part 2

Valparaiso was the area that I was most interested in visiting as many people had told me of it’s beauty. I hadn’t realized that Vina del Mar and Valparaiso were so close to each other. In fact, there is no clear line between the two. The cities just gently join one another.

Valparaiso aptly translates to Valley of Paradise.

Valparaiso is the older of the two cities. It was originally the first port that ships arrived at when sailing from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. Therefore, it was the most important and best known port on the Pacific Ocean in South America. At the time (late 1800’s), it was a melting pot for all different cultures as many immigrants came to settle in the area for it’s prevailing prosperity and economic situation. Many of the immigrants were from Eastern Europe and Russia, but others came from all over the world.

It is known for being home to Latin America’s first stock exchange, the continent’s first volunteer fire department, the country’s first public library and the oldest newspaper in continuous publication in the world. History truly runs deep through this enchanting city.

Other than being an important port for cargo ships, it was also widely known for the fishing industry as the cold arctic current turns the Pacific ocean into a highway for fish, bringing masses of them nearby throughout various seasons. Sadly, when the Panama canal was built in 1914, the route for ships was changed and Valparaiso was all but forgotten near the southern tip of the continent, causing a major economic downturn.

It is such a shame because Valparaiso truly is a unique area. Of course, the port was the main focus, but when the city grew by leaps and bounds, it had no where to expand except for up the surrounding steep hills. Houses were built mostly with cheap materials such as wood and corrugated metal and then painted with the same type of paint that was used on the ships as it was readily available and cheap. Today, most of the houses remain the same. Some say the bright paint colours were used so that the houses could be seen through the dense fog that covers the area every morning.

Valparaiso is also known for it’s variety and quantity of street art splashing the walls and gates with brilliant colours, throughout the residential areas, with beautifully designed paintings from artists around the world. Although street art is not officially legal, it is widely accepted as part of the community. Many locals seek out artists to design art for their outer house or business walls. And, many artists who find wall space available pitch their ideas to the owner and collaborate before permanently introducing their art.

And, they are very proud of their artistic talent in Valparaiso. Particularly, Pablo Neruda. We visited one of his houses which his wife turned into a museum after his passing. He was world-renowned in poetry, also a well-known and loved writer, politician and diplomat. Today, many of his works can be found translated into many other languages and some still grace the best sellers list.

House of Pablo Neruda
Writer, thinker, poet, diplomat and politician.

The central area of Valparaiso is protected by Unesco as of 2003. The areas warmly known as Happy Hill and Conception Hill have the only functioning funiculars in the area.

The funiculars were built starting in the late 1800’s to move people easily and cheaply up and down the steep hillsides. Every morning people would come down the hills to work in the centre or at the port and then in the evening, everyone would be tasked with climbing up the steep hills to their homes. The funiculars were put in place to aid the locals, mainly with their ascent up the hills. Originally there were approximately 26 funiculars throughout the city, painted in bright colours and street art to match the surrounding areas. But now, there are only eight remain in operation.

I was lucky enough to get to travel down on one, El Peral, built in 1902. The ride cost one Chilean peso and took about one minute. There are two funiculars at the same station. As one is traveling down, the other is balancing the gears by traveling up. It boggles my mind that any of the equipment still functions. From the clearly ancient gears, to the warped door that had to be wiggled just right in order to open and the questionable floor boards at the waiting station … it was quite the experience.

Sadly our tour was a bit rushed and I only got to view one or two of the other funiculars in passing. I didn’t have time to photograph them. I wish I had more time to fully explore the beautiful mess that is Valparaiso. I felt my time was too short and rushed to understand the community, but I could instantly feel at home in the disarray of streets and mess of colours. Despite the now poor economic situation, the city is alive with colour, culture and history.

Casas de Cambio

November 27, 2014

Oh Argentina, so quirky yet totally lovable.
(interesting that the word ‘lovable’ autocorrected to ‘livable’, not once, but three times …. is the computer trying to tell me something?)

I’ve just done something totally illegal and yes, I am admitting to it and even writing about it. Don’t worry, I’m pretty confident I’m not going to get arrested for it. It is all part of the game you play while traveling (or living) in Argentina.

Before traveling to Argentina I knew there were ‘money issues’. I read several articles about the US dollar value in Argentina. I learned about the blue market and how to check the rate. I understood that there are two different rates in Argentina – the blue market and the official rate. Ok, so I understand that there are two, but WHY? WHY? WHY? Even after reading several articles that explained all the ins and outs of changing money and the different rates I still didn’t understand why.

I had a local explain it to me and here’s what I understood.

There is a shortage of US dollars in Argentina and the government is ‘protecting’ them (or hoarding them). This means that locals are not allowed to use US dollars. It is illegal. This is driving the value of the Argentinian dollar down in other countries, therefore it is not very valuable. It isn’t so bad if you live in Argentina, earn pesos and spend them, but as soon as you want to leave the country, your hard earned money is worthless. You are not allowed to earn US dollars. Your bank accounts have to only be in pesos. The government is very controlling and the Argentinians just want freedom to earn and spend money freely.

Because of this governmental control, the blue market has been created by locals so that Argentinians have access to US dollars, and therefore, ‘freedom’. The US dollar is in demand, therefore local ‘casas de cambio’ or ‘change houses’ will offer tourists a better rate than the banks. In turn, locals can get dollars to use as they wish, although at a higher price, but better than not at all. Or, they can go to one of the bordering countries (Uruguay is easiest and quickest for most) to take out USD from ATMs. Although illegal to operate a change house, it is generally understood that police turn a blind eye to this practice, at least for the time being.

What does this all mean for tourists?

When traveling to Argentina bring only US dollars. Do NOT waste your time or money getting Argentinian Pesos in advance because your American dollar is worth MUCH MORE when you arrive.

Take just $1 USD for example. The official exchange rate is around 8 Pesos per dollar. However, the blue market ranges between 10 and 14 Pesos per dollar. That’s almost double your money if you exchange it locally (and illegally).

For those of you who have issues with doing something illegal, I get it. I’m not a great criminal myself. But, my understanding (although it could be wrong), is that changing your money is not illegal, it is just the people running the Change Houses who are doing something illegal. I’m probably wrong, but I’m going to keep believing this.

If you are only in Argentina for a couple of days, it is no big deal if you get the official 8 to 1 ratio. But, if you are staying for a longer time, you’d be crazy not to use the blue market. If you plan on spending $500 US, that could change into nearly double your money.

It’s a little bit like gambling or playing the stock market. In fact, I’m sure people do just that and make huge profits. For me though, it is just about making my money go as far as possible.

You can follow the Blue dollar rate on twitter at @dolarblue. They are supposed to post the blue dollar rate daily. I don’t always check it, but I have a good idea now of what is good (14 Pesos to 1 USD Or bad 8 Pesos to 1 USD)

There are few ways to get, use or change your US dollars to Argentinian Pesos.

1. Go to a bank in your home country and change Canadian or US dollars to Argentinian Pesos. Safe and legal, but you will get a bad exchange rate. Your money will not go as far.

2. Go to a bank in Argentina. Safe and legal, but you will get the ‘official’ exchange rate which hovers around 8 pesos per $1 USD.

3. Pay for purchases in Argentina with your credit card. You’ll get the official rate of the day, plus pay any fees that your credit card may impose. It’s not horrible, but again, you still only get the official rate, maybe less depending on your fees.

4. Use an ATM in Argentina to withdraw Pesos. VERY IMPORTANT: ATMs don’t always work. They only provide Pesos, not US dollars and they often run out of money, especially on the weekends. Don’t rely on this. Again, you’ll get the official 8 to 1 (approximate) rate.

5. Take US dollars to Argentina with you and use them to pay at stores, restaurants and hotels, whenever they will accept USD. Ask them what their rate of the day is. If it is the same or better than the Blue dollar rate of the day, go ahead, take it! They will calculate it for you and give you back the difference in pesos. I found this to be the best way, whenever possible. I often got a higher exchange rate from the restaurants than from a cambio house.
Note: $50 or $100 bills get the best rate vs $20 or $10 bills. Anything less than $10, don’t even bother.

Do you suck at math like I do? Here’s a step by step:

A) Your food bill is $100 pesos and you want to pay with $50 USD.
B) Ask what the exchange rate is. Today, my restaurant gave me 14 to 1 (which is awesome).
C) Multiply $50 USD by 14 to get the total value in Pesos (50×14 = 700)
D) You have the value of 700 Pesos … subtract the 100 Pesos for your food bill.
E) You give them $50 USD for your 100 Pesos meal and you should get 600 pesos in return.
F) Be proud. That means you ate grilled chicken, potato and tomato salad, bread and a pepsi for lunch for about $7 USD. To put it in perspective, that same 100 pesos, if you paid with your credit card would have been $12.25 USD. Big difference! It all adds up. Hard to understand. You’d think 100 pesos is 100 pesos, but it is not!

6. Ask a local who you know and trust if they can change the money for you. Often they know the places that will give the best rate, or they may have a reason to want the US dollars for themselves. Maybe they are planning a trip away and storing some US cash before they leave the country. They may be willing to give you a very good rate. There’s no harm in asking. Maybe just make sure they aren’t the local police! You know … just in case!

7. Last, but certainly not least, you can take your USD (preferably $50 or $100 bills) to one of the many obscure Casas de Cambio. It sounds sketchy, and it is! If I hadn’t be repeatedly told how normal, acceptable and easy it is, I would never have done it on my own. It is different than any other country that I’ve ever been to, and I’ve now been to 26 different countries!

In Mendoza, I changed $100 USD at a rate of 12.5 Pesos to 1 USD. It was at the local bus station in a store that also sold bus tickets … or did they? There was a man standing outside the door who asked if I needed change. You very quickly get used to listening for ‘cambio, cambio, cambio’. I didn’t ask for any bus tickets, I just got my local pesos and went on my way.

In Buenos Aires, it is the same, but different. You head to the well known ‘Florida’ street in the financial district of the city. It is a pedestrian only area filled with clothing and shoe stores, Starbucks, Burger King etc. You’ll find street vendors selling their wares in the middle of the cobblestone street and a mixture of passersby from tourists to locals, scraggly backpackers to businessmen. If you listen closely, you will hear the streets whisper ‘cambio, cambio, casa de cambio’. Just as you are honing in on it, it is gone. You look around and wonder where the whisper came from. You probably look a little silly standing still, turning your head. And then a man or woman will catch your eye and say it again … Not interested? Keep walking. They won’t hound you. But, if you need your dollars exchanged, walk up to them and ask what their rate is, don’t yell across the sidewalk, they are trying not to draw unnecessary attention.

In three or four blocks, there were no less than 20 people working the streets whispering ‘cambio’ to passersby. If you aren’t listening for it, it would easily just blend in to the dull hum of the conversations on the street. But, if you are listening for it, you’ll hear it everywhere. You almost can’t escape it.

I passed by about five people on the first street. Not quite sure why. I think I had to build up my confidence. Although they deal with people all the time who speak English (or other languages), it is always best if you can communicate in their language.

On the second street, I approached a guy standing in the centre of the street near a magazine / snack kiosk who had been saying ‘cambio’. I asked in Spanish what the rate of the day was and he told me 12 to 1, if I had a $50 or $100. I told him that I had just gotten 14 at a restaurant and he told me he could not do that high. He said a few other things, but I didn’t completely understand. So, I decided to try elsewhere.

I walked to the next street and it seemed like all of the ‘cambio’ guys / girls were really young. Not sure why but I didn’t feel I could trust the youngsters. They made me a bit uncomfortable. So, I continued on, past a police officer and past the two people near the police officer who were saying ‘cambio’. I didn’t think I would tempt fate by exchanging my money right in front of an officer.

I turned around at the end of the block and headed back. I was still building up courage to do this illegal deal on my own and the police presence had shaken me a bit! I found a lovely older lady about halfway down the block who looked friendly. I approached her and asked what the rate was. She told me 12.80 and I said sure. After all, it was better than the first guy and I liked her. (ha ha because that really matters when you are doing something questionable in another country!)

The pint sized woman walked me a few feet to a magazine kiosk (there are many of them), three men moved out of the tiny doorway and she gestured for me to go in. Really? Go in? I felt like they were going to close the door behind me and I’d never be seen again. Kind of like a magician’s disappearing person act.

I timidly poked my head in through the narrow metal door and before I could see anyone I said ‘Hola?’. I heard someone respond, so I stepped in a little further and the cashier smiled at me. She knew what I was there for, no need to explain or have a conversation about it. She showed me the math on a calculator, gave me my pesos which she placed under a black light to show me that they were real (because I totally know what I’m looking for with counterfeit money, right?). I packed them away, half in my purse and half in my backpack and scurried out of the tiny little metal enclosure hoping that the three men standing near the door didn’t follow me and rob me.

Sounds scary, doesn’t it?

It really wasn’t that bad … I had just heard a lot of stories about people being robbed in Buenos Aires, people getting fake money and the fact that the whole process is officially illegal. Nothing at all to be concerned about, right?

In the end, I managed to change money all by myself without the assistance of a local or tour guide (who aren’t supposed to help you with that anyway because it’s officially illegal). I got a decent rate, although not the best. And I made it through the afternoon and all the way back to my apartment without getting robbed.

I’d say it was a successful day of adventure for this solo female traveler in Buenos Aires! Hopefully next time I change money I’ll do just as well.

How much do things cost in Chile

I’m going to be a good girl and try to keep track of my expenses while I’m traveling. This is not an exciting blog post, just simply for information purposes.

1. For tax purposes. When receipts are in other languages it is hard for my bookkeeper to determine what’s what.
2. For information for others traveling to these destinations.

November 14th

Reciprocity fee – $132 USD – credit card – Good for the term of your passport. Great if you’ve just gotten a brand new 10-year one. Not so good if you are replacing it that same year.

Taxi – minibus – booked after I picked up my luggage, but before leaving airport – $31 USD – credit card
* I checked with several other travellers who had gotten their own taxi outside the airport instead of a minibus / transfer through the company inside the airport. Some were able to negotiate down to about $25 USD, but most were $28 – $30 USD. It depends how good your negotiating skills are.

Ah Hotel – Historical Centre – Santiago – $132 for 2 nights – continental breakfast included

$50 US – changed at a ‘cambio station’ near Plaza del Armas – $29800 Chilean Pesos

Lunch – 1/4 chicken, french fries & pop – 4450 Chilean pesos – approx $7.50 USD
2 water, coke, 2 litre juice – $4.50 USD

Full Day tour – Vina del Mar & Valparaiso – 34 000 Chilean pesos – approx $57 USD – credit card

Lunch buffet with tour at Municipal Casino in Vina del Mar – $23 USD – credit card
Dinner – 4450 Pesos – approx $7.50 – cash
Tip at dinner – $350 pesos – cash
Tip for Felipe (guide) – $2000 pesos – cash

Taxi – 2 kms between hotels – 2450 pesos (gave him 3000 – an extra .50c or so)
Lunch at Da Nui on Portugal Ave – Pollitos y arroz, coke, jello w/ bananas – $4100 pesos + $400 pesos tip.

Dinner at a steak restaurant – Steak and veggies, coke, dessert – $34 USD including tip

I also gave a few coins to the baggage boys who loaded my luggage on to the bus in Santiago and unloaded it in Mendoza. This isn’t required, but it is simply easier. They make it very clear that they are expecting tips. There is no set rate, a few coins will do. They won’t allow you to put your own luggage in or remove it. And, if you refuse to tip them be prepared for a scene. To ensure your luggage isn’t damaged purposely or left behind, just chuck up the dollar or two.

Montenegro – Photo Essay

Perast, Montenegro

Early in the morning on our third day of sailing, a strong cold breeze ushered us in through the mountains to the beautiful Bay of Kotor. From the warm summer breezes on the Mediterranean to a brisk, fresh wind winding through the crooked mountain maze, it was definitely a change in scenery and temperature. The water was a choppy, deep blue and the mountains towered above us in every direction.

I headed in on the first tender to explore the old walled city of Kotor.

After an hour exploring Kotor, I headed back to the ship on the tender to have lunch and then back in to Kotor for our group tour to Perast. It is a beautiful little sea-side town, lazy and sleepy but full of charm. It is best known for being featured in movies such as November Man with Pearce Brosnan. Too bad he wasn’t there when I was!

Aside from the little town of Perast which I got to explore for about 30 minutes or so, there are two islands in the middle of the sea near the most narrow part of the passage. One of the islands is natural, the other was man-made, built on top of a large rock. Each island is home to an interesting Chapel. We had the opportunity to visit Our Lady of the Rock and the Chapel. The art inside was quite interesting and a couple of beautiful paintings are shown the the photo essay below.

Interested in visiting beautiful Montenegro or taking an amazing Star Clippers sailing of the Mediterranean? Get in touch. I’d love to help you out and I am working while I’m traveling, so I’m always happy to assist with your travel needs.

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Thanks for reading.

Falling in Love with Sailing – Part 2

SAIL-AWAY

WOW! I had no idea I would be so completely amazed and in awe by the beauty of the send off. The sun had already set and sunset itself was kind of lack-luster, but when the music started, the deck filled with people, the deck hands started raising the sails and the Captain started commanding the ship, it was a magical, beautiful moment. It was then that I started to get excited about my big adventure. There had been too much stress leading up to the trip, that until I saw the sails of the ship I don’t think I really believed it was happening.

With the sails raised we started our slow sail through Venice, seeing St. Mark’s square off one side of the ship and the Molino Stucky hotel (where I almost stayed) off the right-hand side. With the sail-off anthem playing and the beauty of the lights and sails against the dark blue night sky, I got a little lost in my own little world.

Molino Stucky in Venice
Molino Stucky in Venice

The process probably takes about half an hour to 45 minutes and they do the sail-away ceremony every single night that you leave port. For me, it did not lose its charm. I watched every single night, even when it was cold and misty. Looking up up up as the sails come down, spread out and begin to catch the wind. Every night I spent 30 – 45 minutes lost in my own thoughts, amazed at the beauty and gentle power of the wind in the sails.

A couple of nights I actually helped the deck hands with the process, not that I feel I really did a lot, but I learned how to coil the rope properly and how to let the rope out slowly. I felt like it was an insignificant task, but yet there were six or ten different staff doing the exact same thing at different stations on the boat, so it couldn’t have been worthless. And I got to chat with one of the staff from Goa, India. He was really a great guy and so friendly! Sorry I made your job more difficult Shalesh! Glad you could at least have a laugh at me. (I admit, coiling rope shouldn’t be difficult, but somehow, it just wasn’t my thing!)

 

Deck hands raising the sails
Shalesh showing me how to coil rope (making fun of me actually).

Even though the process is the same every night, the light is different and the port is different. Some nights departure is after dark and the sails are raised into the dark night sky full of stars, other nights they are raised just as the sun is setting. Each night with a beauty all its own.

Royal Clipper Sail-Away from Venice
Royal Clipper Sail-Away from Venice
Royal Clipper Sail-Away from Venice
Royal Clipper Sail-Away from Venice

Each night I noticed something new, found a new process to watch or just simply breathed in the calm energy and beauty of the sails lifting to the sky as we were lulled away to our next destination.

Most people congregated at the front of the boat (bow) where the Captain was commanding the ship and where passengers could take turns learning how to steer. Although I didn’t take a turn at the wheel, I photographed several of my group mates giving it a shot.

Deanna steering the ship
Deanna steering the ship

 

Michelle steering the ship
Michelle steering the ship
Francine steering the ship
Francine steering the ship
Captain Sergei
Captain Sergei
Florentina steering the ship
Florentina steering the ship

What a different atmosphere from a regular cruise ship where you only interact with the wait staff. All around, staff on the ship, were wonderful, fun, friendly and accommodating. After all, I’m sure that Shalesh probably had to redo all of my rope coiling after I turned my back!

Royal Clipper Ropes
Royal Clipper Ropes

On our last sail-away from Porek, Slovenia the last tender to the boat was at 6pm. 6:30pm was set for sail-away. I arrived back on that last tender as I had been on a tour of stunning Ljubljana and our tour had run late returning. I didn’t even go to my room when I returned, I went straight to the sun deck for send-off because it was golden hour and I just knew it was going to be simply beautiful.

When I arrived on deck, I went to the bow where there were surprisingly few passengers. Just one or two. I thought it was unusual, but convinced myself it was just early and people would come in a few minutes. Then the music started and deck hands were everywhere working away. I was busy snapping a few pictures and taking it all in, but felt like I had missed something because no one was on deck!

Slovenia at sunset
Slovenia at sunset
Porek, Slovenia at sunset
Porek, Slovenia at sunset

Just then, one of the deck hands said to me ‘Why are you here? Why aren’t you out on the tender?’ I said ‘What tender?’ He pointed to the tender that was already out in the water staring back at the beautiful Royal Clipper with sails being raised in the setting sun. A perfect moment and I was missing it. My heart sank instantly. Then he told me that there was another tender and hurried me along to go catch it. And I did just that. I arrived at the second tender just on time.

I suspect there had been announcements earlier during the day on board, but because I arrived on the last tender back, I had missed them.

As we moved away from the ship to a better vantage point on the tender, the beauty of the ship, the perfect sunset and the beautiful week I had enjoyed on board all culminated together for a fantastic memory.

Royal Clipper at Sunset in Slovenia
Royal Clipper at Sunset in Slovenia

IMG_8717

Royal Clipper at Sunset in Slovenia
Royal Clipper at Sunset in Slovenia

I sat on the tender with 30 or so other passengers who were equally enamored with the beauty. Our two staff members, the tender Captain and Shalesh (deck hand) did a great job taking us to all of the best vantage points to see the beautiful Royal Clipper as she started to sail away.

We were treated to the opportunity to sail along beside her, to see her with the sun shining on her and the sun setting behind her. I climbed all over the boat, standing on seats, poking my head out above the top and standing precariously on the edge to take a few photos. I think my jaw was open the entire time as I just could not even believe I was part of something so stunning.

Royal Clipper at Sunset
Royal Clipper at Sunset
Royal Clipper at Sunset in Slovenia
Royal Clipper at Sunset in Slovenia

Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, we were taken to the bow of the ship in our tender where about 14 of our crew members walked to the very tip to give us a grand send off with a bow and wave. An amazing end to a very memorable trip.

Royal Clipper send off wave
Royal Clipper send off wave
Royal Clipper send off wave
Royal Clipper send off wave

The next day, I went back on deck to find the deck hand who had pointed me toward the tender, to say a huge thank you for telling me to go as I definitely would have regretted it if I hadn’t caught that second tender. Thanks to his extra care, I shared in one of the most beautiful moments of the entire trip. He didn’t have to tell me about it, but he did and I am most thankful. The sunset was beautiful, but if it hadn’t been for the exceptional staff, I would have missed out.

What do you think? Are you ready for an adventure with Star Clippers tall ship sailings? I can’t wait to do another one. I’m not a fan of cruising, because isn’t adventurous enough for me, but somehow sailing has completely captured my heart.

If you are interested in more information on Star Clippers and the beautiful ports that I visited while I was on this seven day Mediterranean Cruise, please feel free to contact me stucker@tpi.ca

I would truly love for you to have an experience as wonderful as I did.

A quick note. I am not being paid to write this post. I simply adored my travels with Star Clippers and believe they are an amazing company with an interesting background, amazing ships, unique and fun products. I’m sure if you try them you will not be disappointed! I will be a repeat customer for sure.

Falling in love with Sailing – Part 1

Royal Clipper in Montenegro

Star Clippers

When the opportunity came for me to set sail on the Star Clipper’s Royal Clipper in the Mediterranean, I couldn’t believe it. I had almost booked my flights that day, but hadn’t finalized them yet, when the call came from my Star Clipper’s rep, Florentina. She had a space available for me on a 7-day sailing adventure departing from Venice, with stops in Croatia, Montenegro and Slovenia. I had been considering doing these areas (at minimum Croatia) by land and now, here she was, offering me the chance to do them by land and sea.

Taking the opportunity would mean leaving Canada a week earlier than I had planned and finding a way to deal with the sea-sickness that I’m prone to. I love the ocean. I love boats. I love sailing (and the cute sailors in white don’t hurt!). But, about 75% of the time I’ve been on boats, I’ve been horribly ill. Could I really go on a Mediterranean sailing and enjoy it? I was really worried about being sick the entire time.

In the end, my thirst for adventure and love of the ocean far outweighed my hatred of being sick. I researched some options and decided to get the ear patch and hope that it would work.

I’m a believer that when good opportunities throw themselves at your feet, you don’t walk away, you give it a try. So, I excitedly accepted the opportunity and a couple of days later I booked my flights for the European part of my epic adventure!

When the time came to depart, of course it wouldn’t be a Shari-Adventure without some difficulties getting off the ground! You can read about my experience with the Air France strike here. But, eventually, I landed in Venice, took a cab directly to the port and saw her sitting there … just waiting for me to meet her! (The boat that is!)

Royal Clipper
Royal Clipper docked in Venice

Before boarding, we filled out a tiny bit of paperwork and then streamed through security and walked to the gangway. Easey peasy! With only 200 people to board and only half of them there at beginning, wait times were non-existent.

Royal Clipper boarding
Royal Clipper boarding

We were greeted with a welcome drink, snacks and music and then I filed through the short line up and one of the staff members eagerly showed me to my cabin, gave me a quick overview and left me to settle in.

ROOMS

I was really quite impressed with the cabins. They are beautiful, clean, lots of storage space and have two port holes and lots of lighting. The beds were comfortable and everything you needed was there for you. I was especially impressed with the beautiful bathrooms. I felt right at home, except for the tiny corner shower, but that’s to be expected on a boat! There’s no room for a tub! The shower worked well, had lots of pressure and hot water. There were toiletries available and replaced daily just like a hotel would and the towels were fresh and clean (except of course when you ask for them not to be replaced to save water!)

Royal Clipper Cabins
Royal Clipper Cabins
Royal Clipper Cabins
Royal Clipper Cabins
Royal Clipper Cabins
Royal Clipper Cabins
Royal Clipper Cabins
Royal Clipper Cabins

Florentina had made arrangements for a group of us to meet for supper, so I took a few minutes and unpacked my entire suitcase. One of the best parts about a cruise is that you can unpack because you stay in the same room for the duration of your trip. I hung up my dresses, stored my shoes and put my toiletries in the bathroom. After cleaning myself up from a long day of travel, I got dressed up and headed up to the sun deck for our very first sail-away, from Venice, at 7pm.

Falling in Love with Sailing – Part 2

If you are interested in a sailing adventure, I highly recommend Star Clippers and would love to help you find the destinations that are perfect for you! You can reach me at stucker@tpi.ca.

What's love got to do with it?

What’s Love got to do with it?

Having dated some really great guys over the past 7 or 8 years since my divorce and some really rotten ones, I find myself 35 and still single. There’s potential out there, but yet I haven’t found the ‘one’ yet.

Why am I telling you this?

Well, first off, some of you may remember my blog posts back in March / April where I was talking about a lovely man that I had met and although I was planning to move forward with my travel plans, they were changing to accommodate someone special in my life. I was considering traveling for a shorter period of time, possibly having him join me for portions of the trip and just in general, making choices with someone else in mind. I don’t say this in a bad way, just that I was open to seeing where things would go with he and I. I remember saying that I didn’t want to give up on a chance for love just because I had decided to go travel, yet I didn’t want miss my big journey for a relationship that may or may not be ever-lasting.

I’ve been asked about this mystery man regularly by my readers over the past few months. Sadly, we decided to part ways. We still remain close friends, but are no longer in a relationship. This happened months ago but I just wasn’t sure how to write about a break up. Months later, much less emotional it is easier to write it from a practical perspective.

When we parted ways, more than ever it drove the lesson home and reminded me that I need this trip for me, for my life for my health, for my happiness. I needed to make sure I was making decisions that were best for me, not best for anyone else. It’s something a lot of people struggle with … trying to please others before themselves.

Being 35 and single, successful and independent, many people say ‘what do you need a man for?’ Well it is true, I don’t need a man, but I am one of those ladies who does really want to find the right one and settle down. By the way, settling down does not mean quitting travel, maybe just smaller trips. Or, you never know. Maybe I’ll find a man who wishes to travel with me!

I think my biggest realization over the past few months was that even though I was open to finding that special someone, it just hadn’t been working out in Halifax. I felt like I was wasting my precious ‘young’ years looking for a special man rather than living the life I wanted to live. I was caught in the trap of what a ‘normal’ life looks like. What was the point in staying home in Nova Scotia waiting for a man to build a life with when I could be strengthening and building my own life while traveling the world.

Many people in my age group continually tell me they are jealous of my lifestyle. Most of them have partners and kids … or ex-partners and kids and feel like they missed out on the opportunity to see the world they way they want. I’m constantly reminding them that it’s a double edged sword …. Although I can go see the world and enjoy, I don’t have the pleasure and joy of raising children or a loving man to come home to each night. No point in being jealous of someone else’s life, you have to make the best of your own life. I’ve learned that my life will be what I make it and it’s up to me to make the choices to have the life that I dreamed of. In February 2012 I decided to design my life. I’m a doer and a dreamer and I am going to live a happy life with or without a partner.

So …. Here I am. I’m writing this post while sailing the Mediterranean between Italy and Croatia on the Royal Clipper. (although posting a few days later) I’m soaking up the afternoon sun with a warm breeze and ocean as far as the eye can see in any direction. I’m in the middle of nowhere, all alone, but surrounded by people and 100% completely relaxed and happy.

With about 120 guests on board, probably 50% of them are sitting at one of the several bars. A few are listening to the Captain’s lecture, and many are lounging on the sundeck …. Relaxing, chatting or reading.

For me, I’m on the sundeck, near the bar, drinking water … although I may splurge on a pina colada soon. Instead of reading a book, I’m writing one. A blog about my life, my travels and lessons that I’ve learned along the way. That’s pretty much a book right?

So, what does love have to do with all of this?

I’ve learned that love is everywhere, within everyone and its not just about finding a special someone. Before I left Halifax I realized that I am surrounded by love every day. Single or married, it doesn’t matter. Love matters, but love from friends and family and love for yourself, are the best way to live a happy life. And, isn’t that what everyone wants – a happy life?

Before I left to go away I moved everything (again) into my sister’s house. The first morning I woke up to my niece squeaking in through my bedroom door to come crawl in bed with me. As exhausted as I was, it was a moment that I cherished. What’s better than a morning cuddle from a child? Hmmmm not much. I felt loved and welcomed and content. So instead of focusing on love from only one person (an unknown man that I was looking for), I’m making a decision to make sure I fully appreciate the love of all of my friends and family … all of the time.

Life is good. Love is everywhere. You just have to open your eyes and heart to appreciate the love you already have rather than always wanting more!

And that, my friends is what love has to do with it.

Air France Strike

Air France Strike

With my flight originally scheduled from Halifax to Venice on Sept 18th, when Air France pilots officially went on strike on Sept 15th it was devastating. I had been so incredibly busy with finishing up work files and trying to plan my own trip that I already felt maxed.

Air France had a release out that said they would be operating at 48% of flights. For those affected by cancellations, they could reschedule free of charge within specific date ranges (and within their original class of service or they could get a full refund.

Being only four days from departure, I knew that changing my flights would be nearly impossible because everything would be sold out and even if I found new flights with Air France that fit the restrictions, it was possible that those flights could be cancelled too seeing as they weren’t announcing cancellations until 24 hours in advance.

I got busy making phone calls as soon as the strike was confirmed. I started by calling my insurance company to see what the procedure would be and when I could officially make a claim. After much discussion, I was advised that my plan actually wouldn’t cover anything to do with strike action even though I had booked the flights months before the strike was announced. So, in this particular case I was SOL because insurance wasn’t going to help me out with the cost of new flights or with the money lost for and expensive hotel in Venice that was non-refundable.

Right then and there I was super frustrated. I looked my insurance policy up, but sadly, with the lower package that I had purchased, strike was not included.

Next up, I called my credit card company as I have insurance with them as well … good news … I had medical and baggage coverage with my credit card. Bad news, I did not have interruption insurance. So …. No luck with the credit card.

What does all of that mean?

If my flight was cancelled I could get my money back from the airline (about $1200). I could then use that money to buy a brand new ticket (on short notice), which was going to cost closer to $4000. Hmmm … see the disconnect here?

I started searching for new flight options on my own to see what I could get for the cheapest and still reach Venice on time. I came up with an Air Canada itinerary departing on Sept 19 (a day later), but arriving on Sept 20th, in time for my embarkation. And it even had better routing – Halifax / Toronto / Venice. It would mean forfeiting a night in Venice at a non-refundable hotel and paying about $500 extra for my flight. It sucked, but it was certainly better than not going at all.

Tuesday I tried to forget about it. After all it was possible that my flights might be on the ‘fly’ list instead of cancellation list. Then I’d be all set, nothing would change and I’d arrive in Venice one day early, as planned.

Wednesday the 17th came and I checked for flight updates as soon as I woke up. Sadly, mine was one of the cancelled ones.

I got on the phone to Air France right away. First I tried their public reservations number, which wasn’t open that early in the morning. I was not impressed. In the middle of a strike and customer service / reservations weren’t even taking calls?

Then I found our agent line to Air France and not only did someone answer, but he was super helpful and nice. I went through the situation with him and he began looking for new routing options with me. Finally he found one that would still leave on Sept 18th, but routing would be Halifax / Montreal / Paris … then I would overnight in Paris before heading on to Venice the next morning … still in time for my embarkation. I told him to put those on hold.

A couple of problems though …

No change in flight price, but it would cost me an extra hotel in Paris, as well as transportation. No way I could visit Paris for 24 hours and stay in a hotel room the whole time!

The flights were still with Air France which means they could still be cancelled and then I would be back to square 1.

Once the rep had them on hold I tried to find a later flight from Halifax to Montreal so that I wouldn’t have an 8 hour layover in Montreal. The rep wasn’t able to make changes to that particular portion of the trip as he was only able to change the Air France segments. He put me through to their booking department and I had a nice chat with a rep there who went above and beyond to get me exactly what I needed.

She checked Air France, KLM and Delta flighs again, but everything was sold out. This is what happens when one company cancels half of their flights, the other airlines fill up very quickly. Having not found anything suitable, she asked if it would be ok if I checked with other airlines. Hell yes! I don’t have any particular loyalties to airline companies. I just wanted to get to Venice on time for my Star Clippers cruise. I was not prepared to miss that!

As soon as she asked me that, I told her about the good Air Canada flights that I had found and I just thought she wasn’t able to switch me to them. After about 20 – 30 minutes on the phone with her, she had cancelled the ‘on hold’ flights with the overnight in Paris, rounded up my new request for flights and had sent it off to get confirmation.

Phew! Was I ever happy when she told me that Air Canada approved the change and she sent me a new eticket.

What does that mean? It meant that I didn’t have to pay to reroute or change my date, I didn’t have to get a refund and then pay a crazy amount more for flights with another airline, I got better routing and got to collect Aeroplan points for the flight which I wouldn’t have been able to do with the other routing. It still left me missing out on a night in Venice and a $300 hotel, but in the grand scheme of things, that was pretty minor and I was thrilled to have it taken care of.

Besides, I barely made it to the airport on time on Friday because I was still packing and doing errands. There’s no way that I would have gotten it all done to leave on Thursday!

The lesson here for all of you is two fold:

  1. Check all of your insurance policies (work / credit card / purchased through an agent) to see if your policy covers airline strike.
  2. Use a travel agent to book your trip. I spent an hour and a half on the phone with Air France plus a couple of hours looking at new routing myself. And, if I hadn’t had access to the travel agent emergency line I have no idea how long it would have taken to get it all settled and how frustrated I would have been as a regular customer not knowing what all of my options were.

Despite the incredible number of customers from that 52% of flights that were cancelled, the staff that I spoke to both gave wonderful customer service despite working over time and likely having to deal with a lot of agents (or customers) looking for miracle solutions.

Although I was happy to gain my Aeroplan points and have better routing, I mostly was just pleased with the knowledge and friendliness of the Air France staff who did exactly what I needed.

How to travel solo and not be lonely

Urban Adventures Food Tour in Malaysia

Every time I head out on a trip, whether it be an all inclusive vacation or to the other side of the world, everyone always asks ‘Are you traveling alone? All by yourself?’. My answer is pretty much always the same … ‘I’m traveling solo, but I’m never alone.’

It’s funny how needy we are (people in general). Everyone thinks you need to have someone else in order to travel, a partner or a friend. People don’t seem to get the whole travel solo idea even though millions of people are doing it. And, not just doing it but LOVING it.

All different types of personalities travel alone … some like peace and quiet, some like being social and meeting new people, some are nearly hermits at home, but when they get to a new country they flourish! Some people enjoy travel but there partner, spouse or friend does not or can’t get the time off. Everyone has their reasons.

Travelling solo gives you a great deal of confidence in yourself because it is up to you to make good decisions and hopefully non-harmful mistakes. We all make mistakes, it’s all about learning from them and hopefully making mistakes that make you stronger in the end. There is no one there but you to take responsibility for yourself and you truly learn a lot from that. Not to mention how much you learn about yourself! What you like and don’t like, how much stress you can handle, how resourceful you are …

It is true that I often get on the plane and leave my home in Halifax solo … yes, at that point I am alone – wait, not really … there’s another 100 people on the plane plus staff and crew. If I was really lonely, I could strike up a conversation with my seat mates or the staff, but most of the time I take that time to decompress, de-stress and get excited. Then I land in a new destination and there’s a whole new world out there waiting for me!

Don’t ever let not having a partner to travel with hold you back! Being alone is good for you sometimes and when you’re not ok with being alone, you just have to know where to find people … then you can make friends!

Generally speaking, people around the world like travellers. If you are lost, they’ll help you. If you are scared, they’ll get you to safety or take you under their wing. If you friendly, they’ll be friendly back. Ok, ok … unless you get yourself into some crazy gang area or unethical situations … then you might be on your own, so don’t do that! But, almost everywhere I’ve travelled I’ve found good people who want you to enjoy their country.

As we grow older, we forget how to make friends. As students, you spend time in class with people and create study groups. You hang out after class and have drinks together. But, as adults, we work and we don’t always want to work and play in the same sandbox, so where do you find friends then?

Students, hold tight to your best friendships in university. Work at keeping in touch with your best friends while you are traveling or when you move to different parts of the country. Sure, each of you are going to change, but you’ll always be bonded by memories of school years. These friendships can lead to interesting travel opportunities later on depending on where your friends spread out around the country and the world!

Here are a few tips for traveling solo but not getting lonely.

1. Small Group Adventure Tours – These tours are usually made up of 10 -12 like-minded travellers and are guided by a local. You get to go to some really interesting places and get a local’s insight along the way. You’ll meet new friends, see new places and not be alone which is great to stave off loneliness, but also for safety.

Visiting Angkor Wat in Cambodia

Have questions about which tour company is best or you or need help deciding on your destination? As an Adventure Travel Specialist & full service travel agent, I would love for you to contact me to discuss your many options! Keep in mind that prices are the same through a travel agent as online, but you get the benefit of personal experience, professional expertise and a real person to help sort out all of the details of your trip! Have questions? Let’s chat!

2. City Tours – Not up for a week or month long small group tour? That’s ok, you can still join in on day tours. Again you’ll get to travel with a local and see some of the ins and outs of a city or area plus you’ll meet the others in your group and make plans for other day tours or hanging out for drinks later. As a solo female traveller, my favourite are the city by night tours. If I’m alone, I don’t normally go out in the city at night, so I love to go on night tours because I can meet people and travel the streets safely. It’s also nice to have a group to dine or have drinks with.

Urban Adventures Food Tour in Malaysia

3. Bars – Although you have to be careful, bars are still a great place to meet people. Although I’ve never been very good at this one, lots of people are and I think it just takes practice. Find yourself a seat at the bar. Make sure you sit in the middle so there is a free seat on either side of you. Strike up a conversation with the bartender – male or female, doesn’t matter. Ask them about their community, their life, other fun things to do. Soon enough, you’ll probably have people sitting on both sides of you joining in the conversation. Just remember to keep your wits about you and be safe. Watch your drink at all times to make sure no one slips anything in it!

4. Hostels – Travelers of all ages use hostel accommodations these days. Staying at a hostel immediately gives you a sense of community. You are amongst fellow travellers. Don’t be shy. Ask someone if you can share their table at breakfast and start chatting about your travels. Some hostels have a bar or activity nights or a sitting / lobby area. Don’t be afraid to hang out there and chat with other travellers! Many a great travelling friendship has been born through hostel connections.

5. Couch Surfing – Looking for cheap accommodations? You can’t get much better than free! People offer up their couch (or spare bed) for travellers passing through for a day or two, sometimes longer. These folks are also often eager to show you around, tell you about their community and sometimes even take you out on the town. What a great way to meet new friends and stay on budget! Just make sure you check references and reviews carefully. If you ever arrive at a home and feel uncomfortable, don’t worry about anyone’s feelings, just keep yourself safe and leave the situation. Enjoy the local living and respect the people you stay with. Then, when you are done traveling and have a home of your own re-pay the favour to other travellers and offer your couch up for surfing!

Until the day when I meet the perfect travel partner who I am fully in tune with, I’ll continue traveling solo and loving every minute of it. You get to make the decisions that affect the outcome of your travel experience and you don’t have to be responsible for anyone else’s decisions.

Get out there. Step outside of your comfort zone. Start small with a week long trip to somewhere on the same continent. Challenge yourself to be fully responsible for your own happiness and travel alone. Cast aside the possibility of loneliness. With the few tips above, you’ll be well on your way to meeting new friends and having no shortage of fun options no matter where you travel. Once you get a taste of the freedom that solo travel provides, watch out … wanderlust is a disease that can’t be cured!

*** Credit Card Insider’s Visitor Experience department has requested that I write this post as a resource for their current and potential clients. If you wonder what credit card might be best for you, they are a great place to start. Give them a quick click and check it out! This is an unpaid post, solely on a collaborative basis.