From Bariloche to Puerto Varas

We were forewarned: this OAT trip would include several long travel days, some by plane, some by bus. Today’s transfer from Bariloche to Puerto Varas was expected to take from 8 AM to 4 PM, including the border crossings. We need to pass thru security for BOTH Chile AND Argentina, and depending on the mood of the guards, that could be brief or it could take hours.

Our route. Laura thoughtfully marked it with yellow “stickies” We started in the lower right hand corner and ended in the left lower corner, going up and around.

But that’s okay. Days in transit allow us to see the country and decompress. Our time in Bariloche was so jam packed, a day to chill was most welcome. The beautiful pool, spa and terrace at our hotel? I had no opportunity (and no energy) to try them

During our stay, we were treated to two very interesting lectures. The first, a talk by Hans Schultz about Nazis in Patagonia, was fascinating. The second took place the next morning. We learned about the “people of the land” from a member of the Mapuche tribe.

I can’t do either speaker justice blogging from my iPhone, so those stories will have to wait till I get home. I’ll also be sure to include the stories our local guide, Fernando, told us during our bus ride. Coming attractions include highlights of those two lectures plus stories about a Texas cowboy (Jarod Jones) the famous bandits, (Butch and Sundance)and a local boy(Ernesto Che Guevara).

But let’s get back to our second day in Bariloche . After the Mapuche talk, we ALL decided to take the optional trip: a float down the Limay (Crystal) River. Our group of 12 is very cohesive and very active. We all are opting to do EVERYTHING together!

Could that be a Moai atop that mountain?

Mike and I went in different rafts so we could photograph each other and our friends.

In addition to gorgeous scenery and crystal clear water, we also saw beautiful birds, like this kingfisher that Mike photographed.

I was never fast enough. My bird photos are mainly empty branches!

We were told that at the end of the trip, we would have a “snack”. Well, that “snack” turned out to be delicious quiche, the very best empanadas we’ve had (so far), delicious fried dough pastries, breads and jams, AND a wine tasting.

Next stop, horseback riding at a family owned ranch.

Mike’s horse allergy meant that we had a skilled photographer taking shots of our group.

By the end of our ride, we were all pretty hungry. What could be better than authentic Argentinian barbecue of beef, lamb and chorizo.

What is Mike doing? He’s throwing meat on the roof of the barbecue.

Why? To get this bird to come out of the tree so we could photograph it.

Fortunately, he stayed still long enough so that even I could photograph him!

By the time we returned to the hotel, I was as too tired to take advantage of the two for one drinks at the hotel bar!

What about that long ride to Puerto Varas? It wasn’t boring at all. The scenery was beautiful, plus Laura had a few surprises for us.

First was our celebratory drink when we crossed the border into Chile. Their Dulce de Leche is their equivalent to our Bailey’s Irish Creme.

Then, our lunch stop provided more than just great food. It was also the site of a self described car museum.

But it was so much more! There was also a model train village and ancient household tools that made out grandmothers’ lives “easier”

An old wringer washing machine.

My favorite part, however, was hanging with this sweet little guy who wanted me to admire his hot wheels collection.

Can you figure out why I’m ending this post?

Santiago, Chile

Expect to find these words carved on my tombstone: “She never passed up the opportunity to use a clean bathroom”. Good thing, because it took us two and a half hours to get our butts off the plane, thru Santiago airport and into a taxi. The airport’s long lines would have been even more of a challenge with a full bladder.

One reason it took so long was the computers at passport control went down for 30 minutes. Can you imagine what the crowd would be like if that happened in a NY airport? But here, everyone chilled. No groans, cursing or eye rolls. Free Wi-Fi helped. It gave everyone an opportunity to check in with friends and family.

Was this a regular occurrence? We will soon find out, because over the next six days we will be experiencing Santiago airport three more times: back and forth to Easter Island and to Buenos Aires.

Another reason for the long lines is Chile seriousness about not allowing agricultural products into the country. If the dogs don’t get you, the scanning equipment will, so there were no nuts or granola bars in OUR luggage.

We followed our tour guide’s instructions, paying for our taxi inside the airport. 20,000 pesos sounds like a lot, but it is only about $30, and they accept credit cards, so I didn’t need to stop at the ATM to the right of immigration, but I did anyway.

Although we don’t usually stay at Crowne Plaza Hotels, I signed up for their loyalty program when I made our on line reservation. Not only do loyalty members get free Wi-Fi, they also can request early check in. By the time we arrived at 10 AM, we were pleasantly surprised to learn that our room was ready.

A less pleasant surprise was how very tired we were. Or maybe we are just having to acknowledge that we no longer have the stamina that we did in our younger days. Back in “the day”, we would have ignored our weariness and started checking things off our (actually MY) list. Instead, our goals for day 1 are: eat, walk a bit, rest, get acclimated to the new time zone. That was ONE To-Do list we completely accomplished!

By 1 PM, we were so hungry that we ended up having pizza and beer at La Junta, a bar with outside tables. I tell you the name so that if you are ever in Santiago, you will avoid it. The only problem with outside dining—that’s where all the smokers hang out. We ate inside.

Yeah, it was every bit as bad as it looks.

Thanks to the OAT Forum and Trip Advisor, we fared MUCH better for dinner. Both recommended Boca Nariz, a wine bar offering tapas and entrees.

If you don’t have the time or the energy to tour a Chilean vineyard, this is a great alternative. Here, you can choose from a wide variety of wine flights. We opted for wines from the Pacific coast and were pleased with our choice.

Although it looks empty, that appearance is deceiving. Those empty tables are reserved. If you plan to visit, it is wise to make a reservation. We lucked out. Initially the hostess seated us at the only available table, one designed for munchkins. Poor Mike looked like he was at an elementary school parents’ night, sitting at his kid’s desk. The hostess took note and moved us to the big kid’s table as soon as one opened up.

Once again, my blogging is lagging behind our experiences. More about Santiago next time we encounter cooperative Wi-Fi

The Four B’s: Brixen, Bressanone, Bolzano, Bassano del Grappa

There is something about a snowy day in New Jersey that gets me thinking about our Northern Italy trip, which is a good thing, because those days wandering among these “B” towns definitely belong with my on-line memories.

Our base for our last days was the Goldene Krone Vital Hotel in Brixen/Bressanone. Yes, the town has two names, an Italian one and a German one. Like a few other areas on our lovely planet, this ground had been fought over many times, with the conquerors imposing their language and customs on the conquered. For the current inhabitants of German/Austrian ancestry, the preferred name is Brixen. The Italians opt for Bressanone.

Regardless of what you call it, the town is absolutely charming. We were lucky enough to be there during some kind of street fair. There was music, food and of course, lots of beer.

This alpine town is famous for its very realistic wood carvings. Admit it, if you look quickly, doesn’t this man and his dog look real? I was almost fooled. (But then, that’s not all that difficult to do.

At night, the streets quieted down, but the shops and restaurants were still open and within walking distance of our hotel. We took advantage of a “dinner on our own” night to enjoy a fantastic wine cellar type meal with two of the new friends we made on this trip–Julie and Roger. My only regret is I didn’t write down the name of that fantastic restaurant!

Our first hike, oh so many days ago, was in the Swiss Alps. Now we were given the opportunity to experience the Dolomites. We could either ride a lift way up the mountain to a station hiding in the cleft between the two peaks on the right, or we could go for a hike –but we clearly wouldn’t get as far up. Mike rode; I hiked.

It was hard to believe that it had snowed two days before we arrived, unless you chose to walk–then you were slipping and sliding on a trail that was quite muddy. Any guesses as to who ended up with a muddy butt?

This was the first year the trip was offered by OAT, so the itinerary was still being modified, based on feedback from prior travelers. One wonderful addition was a visit to the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, home of Otzi, the “ice man”.

Otzi was found by two German hikers in 1991. What the archaeologists have been able to learn from that discovery is truly amazing. From his remains, they were able to recreate a model showing what they believe Otzi looked like. His tools, weapons, clothes and even the contents of his stomach were incredibly well preserved–for about 4,000 YEARS! Yikes.

The exhibits are accompanied by interesting explanations of what you are viewing. I apologize for the crooked photos that follow. I didn’t want to be a jerk, blocking the exhibits while I attempted to grab a perfectly centered, nicely squared off photo, but I figure you’ll get the idea.

The researchers finally determined Otzi was murdered, and that he probably bled to death from the arrow wound in his shoulder. But Otzi didn’t give up without a fight. From DNA analysis, scientists determined that there were traces of blood from at least four other people on his knife, coat and an arrowhead. Can you tell I really loved that museum?

Fast forward several thousands years to Bassano del Grappa. Over all those centuries, man’s inhumanity to man hasn’t changed.

You can still see the bullet holes in some of the the buildings in Bassano del Grappa’s old town from WWII, when the Italian partisans battled the Nazis.

This plaque tells the story about what happened along the river in 1944.

The trees from which the young Italians were hanged have been turned into memorials.

We all know how devastating WWII was, but when you see the long row of trees, each festooned with photos, names, dates and flowers, you get a feel for the very personal pain felt by the families in this area.

The town of Bassano del Grappa is also noted for (guess what) grappa, and we got to sample some after lunch at the Nardini Distillery. I’ll be honest. I didn’t like it. I’m more of a Franciacorta girl.

Overall, this was a wonderful trip to a part of Italy that I knew very little about. Next trip– to a different continent!