Friday, July 20, 2007

Titicaca cha cha cha! Machu Picchu cha cha cha!

It's time to leave lovely Lima in search of greener (or bluer) pastures. In an hour I'm off to the airport with Benjamin (who, despite flying into Sao Paolo the day of the crash managed to miraculously avoid all contact with it) for our flight to Juliaca. We'll spend the weekend in Puno and check out Lake Titicaca and then head by train to Cuzco, where we'll meet up with Anders and see the sights before heading off on our four day trek to Machu Picchu.

Needless to say, I won't be dragging my laptop around the Andes with me, so posts will have to wait until Aug 1 when I return!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Greetings from Sunny Lima!

Just kidding! I haven't seen the sun since I left Barcelona on Friday. Lima is CLOUDY. And damp. And cold! And pretty dirty, too. But I like it! The people are nice, the food is fantastic, everything is cheap, and the wifi at Starbucks is FREE! Which is the main reason I'm sitting in one right now, looking out over the cliffs at the Pacific Ocean, which I hadn't seen since August 2006.

And so, life is good. Spent a restful weekend eating and wandering around Miraflores and Central Lima. On Sunday I checked out the Inquisition Museum, which wasn't as exciting as I'd hoped (meaning not as gory as I'd hoped), and then sort of accidentally took a tour of this old monastery, which turned out to be the Monasterio de San Francisco and which is quite stunning. We were lured in by a sign promising a visit to the underground catacombs, which - I'm not kidding - were straight out of Indiana Jones. Bones everywhere... thousands and thousands of people down there. Most of the bones were just in piles, strewn about, but thousands of them were neatly organized. Or at least the femurs were. How they know which femurs are pairs, I don't know, but I didn't inspect them too closely.

This delightful adventure was followed by a stroll through the Plaza de las Armas, where I realized that what one taxi driver said is indeed true: Lima is much more beautiful by night. At night, with the city gently illuminated and glowing, you don't see the dirt and crumbling buildings so well and it really seems like an entirely different city. It's downright beautiful.

Yesterday I embarked on an entirely different type of adventure, one which I certainly never saw in an Indiana Jones movie. You see, I got scolded at Immigration in Atlanta on Friday for having only 2 spaces left in my passport, so I decided it was time to pay a visit to my local US Embassy. Apparently the Embassy used to be more centrally located, but a few years ago they moved it verrrrry far away to the neighborhood of Surco. Not sure if this was before or after a car bomb went off there in 2002 to "celebrate" the visit of one George W. Bush.

Anyway, after agreeing on the fare with the driver (very interesting) I took the long ride to the massive, rather ugly and very well protected embassy. I'll take ugly any day if it means I get efficiency in return. I don't think I waited more than 10 minutes altogether. I just walked in and told them I needed more passport pages. Filled out a form and was told to come back in the afternoon. Incredible. Even more incredible is that when I went back in the afternoon, MY PASSPORT WAS READY! Granted, it kind of looks like I might have put the pages in myself, but no matter. It has an official sticker saying I didn't.

Back to the taxis. This was daunting for the first five seconds. But actually it's great because you know you're not going to get driven around town and ripped off because there's no point - you've already agreed on the price! And everyone is exceptionally friendly. Service here kicks the butt of Spanish service... which, I should point out, is actually an oxymoron. "Spanish service." Ha!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Back in the EEUU

I'm sitting in Atlanta International Airport, waiting to board my flight to Lima. This is the first time I've been in the US since January 10, over six months ago... the longest I've ever spent away from the states. It's nice to be back. Airports in the US are really great. There was a woman playing a baby grand piano in the food court when I arrived. Who doesn't like a little tinkling of the ivories with their Big Mac? Super classy, I was impressed.

I landed here from Barcelona four hours ago, and I have nearly two hours still to go. No problem, I have internet access and there is a newsstand with trashy magazines (US Weekly! People! Star! Awesome!) dangerously close by. Larry King is on the flatscreen overhead, interviewing people who swear the saw aliens at Roswell. And I'm at a gate that hasn't had a flight in it for the past three hours, so it's nice and quiet. Ahhh, I love airports. Not enough, however, to stay here past 11:30, so I hope my flight leaves on time.

While I'm excited for my upcoming trip, it's weird to know I'll be away from Barcelona for three months. It has really become my home in the past two years... especially now that I've finally settled into my new flat. But that new flat is all packed up again and waiting for my return in October. In the meantime, I'll be "doing the Americas." Time to head south of the equator!

Friday, July 13, 2007

On Haggis and Mars Bars

It was only a matter of time before I got around to a more serious post... Scotland. Please do not allow me to dispense of any rumors you may have heard about Scottish weather. It really does suck as much as everyone says it does. Sorry, but I have to be honest. The funny thing about it is that, as a result, the second the sun comes out and the weather gets above 50F, everyone seems to take their clothes off. Very interesting phenomenon.

But I digress.

Because it rained nearly the entire time I was there, it was difficult to do outdoorsy things which I so love. Believe me, I tried. I climbed up that Arthur's Seat thing (or at least tried) and had to turn back without reaching the top - something I really hate doing - because I was soaked through to my underwear after only 15 minutes and knew I still had to go those 15 minutes back, plus the other 30 to Andy's house. My ipod shuffle suffered more than I did... It was in my pocket that day and now the "play" and "forward" buttons no longer work. The "back" button does, but that doesn't seem to help when you can't even play anything in the first place. Ah well.

So yes I did manage to take in some culture (though I avoided Glasgow, much to my chagrin, due to fiery Jeep attacks and Glaswegian responses - not sure which is scarier) and managed to go to Edinburgh Castle and all its associated museums, Rosslyn Chapel, the art museum, and the natural history museum. And, more importantly, I caught up with old friends from Rockstar, some of whom I hadn't seen in four years. So despite the weather, I managed to have a grand old time, which culminated in an incredible Wednesday night, the day before I left for London.

After an incredible dinner with my friend David at Martin Wishart, the only restaurant in Scotland to boast a Michelin star (we did the 7 course tasting menu - surprisingly filling considering each course is literally a TASTE), we met up with Sandy, Chloe, Duncan, Allan, Kevin, and Andy at a local pub near the office. They were all very intrigued by Martin Wishart and all, but were still upset that I had yet to try haggis or a deep fried Mars bar. In fact, I'd somehow managed to avoid typical Scottish fare altogether. With Andy as my host, I'd had fantastic Japanese, Chinese (in a secret underground restaurant that you need a password to get into - HOW COOOOOL), Indian, Thai, and Mexican food, but no haggis. Shame.

The secret underground Chinese restaurant. To most people, it's just a takeaway place, but if you're in the know you can go through the kitchen to this big dining room downstairs for the most amazing food.

So despite my already bloated belly, off we went to the local chipper, and that's where all hell broke loose.

First we started off with a little arm wrestling in the pub.


Look how excited I am!

The haggis stood no chance. Poor haggis.

Can you believe we ate this?? Ugh. Seemed like a good idea at the time...

So excited.

And of course no trip to Scotland is complete without a deep fried Mars bar!

And of course, my kind friends all insisted that it would be a wise idea to wash it all down with some "Irn Bru" (pronounced "iron brew" - catchy, eh?) to fend off any possible hangovers or indigestion.

After 3 sips of this super-powered orange soda I figured my intestines were probably a nice shade of flourescent and thought it was time to return to normal beverages. Like Guinness!

And cider!

Needless to say, I was feeling a little worse for the wear on Thursday morning when I met David at the train station for our trip to London. I slept almost the whole way and only caught the occasional half glimpse of the beautiful passing English countryside. Of course it was sunny in Edinburgh that day. And rainy in London.

Incidentally (incidentally, my new favorite word is incidentally), another thing that tastes really good the day after a haggis-and-beer-fueled night is "Lamb & Mint" flavored chips. Honestly, the first taste is revolting. But then it's rather addictive! I wish I had some now...

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

On karma and conspiracies

If you're more a fan of karma than conspiracy theories, you might like this. I was talking with my dad, trying to figure out my recent spate of bad air travel karma, when I realized I might be looking at things all wrong. Maybe I had never done anything bad to anyone at an airport. Maybe I was being repaid for the bad airport karma in good alternate karma ways. Life is just a matter of looking at the right side of things. Or having a trust fund. But you can still go to jail with one of those.... if only for 24 days.

Picture this. My dad and I walk through Gate 5 at Wimbledon on Sunday, completely psyched knowing we're treading on hallowed grounds of tennis tradition and, more importantly, fully aware that we're about to witness potentially the greatest showdown of tennis history. My bag is searched in true Wimbledon tradition, our tickets are torn, and we are in. We take in a couple of junior matches, a couple of Pimm's, and a couple of sandwiches, and before we know it it's time to head for center court. Sorry. Centre court.

Now, I'm generally not one to lose track of such important things as Wimbledon tickets, house keys, my pants, or plane tickets. But I swear my ticket stub - the only way to get into center court - vanished from my pocket. Trying not to panic, dad and I went through all the possible hidden ticket locations, and finally asked a guard what to do. He sent us to lost and found. I figured the likelihood of it being returned was about 0.000000376%.

So we headed for lost and found, where a very kind lady looked through everything with no luck and then suggested we go to the ticket booth where we MIGHT be able to work something out. I've never felt so stupid in my whole life. Except for the first term of the MBA... I felt so badly for my poor dad, who offered to share the seat and swap places every few games, and who had been so kind to invite me as his "date" when he got the tickets from a friend. I was crushed.

But as we walked out of lost and found, who should appear but the guard we had spoken to just moments earlier. "Is this what you're looking for?" And indeed it was. A woman turned it in, miraculously to exactly the same guard, just moments earlier. And so as my dad and I strolled into center court, it dawned on me. The bad airport karma is not payback for some horrible airport wrong I did in the past. Rather, all the lucky things that happen elsewhere are to make up for the bad airport experiences. Or that's the way I choose to look at it, anyway. And I'll take it gladly... This kind of luck has not only returned a missing Wimbledon ticket, but only weeks early magically got my wallet back to me when I left it on a Norwegian train just an hour before my flight to Barcelona was due to take off. But that's another story altogether...

By the way, the match was incredible. Total nail-biter and definitely the best match I've ever seen in my life... maybe the best match I'll ever see!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

You win some you lose some. (Or, a conspiracy theory)

Today was yet another test of wills as I got a rematch in Noelle v. Airlines.

I should have known it was all too easy. My taxi arrived right on time, there was minimal traffic en route to Paddington Station, and the Heathrow Express only took 20 min instead of the expected 40. (Talk about express!) I checked in, got a sweet aisle seat in the exit row, and life was looking good. I noticed that the 4:50 flight to BCN was delayed nearly an hour, but thought nothing of it. Silly me.

At 5:45pm I looked up at the boards and realized that my flight was closing in less than 10 minutes, so I ran (sprinted, really) with all my stuff from one end of the terminal to another. Made it to my gate in the nick of time, only to realize that the woman had just ripped the stub off my ticket... for a different flight. The late one to Barcelona that was supposed to leave 2 hours earlier. I calmly hauled it back to the main terminal area in order to check where my flight was... Ah, of course. Two hours delayed!

Feeling rather sweaty and more than a little parched, I bought myself a nice big bottle of water, had a few sips, and contented myself with my internet addiction until my flight was finally called at 8:30. I walked to the gate area, where I was met with a massive queue. Believe it or not, we were being marched through security. AGAIN. And my lovely 1 liter bottle of Volvic and I had to part ways. Of course, there was no warning of additional security. But there was definitely water for sale (at extortionary prices) on the other side of the metal detectors!

Thus, I believe this is a conspiracy on the part of the bottlers, water companies, and soft drink makers. Work with me, people! I'm not crazy!!!!!

Anyway, the only good thing about your flight being 4 hours delayed, is that you think you'll arrive and find no taxi queue because it's 1am. Wrong. It seemed that 1am was suddenly prime arrival time, and the queue for taxis at Terminal B stretched about half a kilometer (I'm not joking) and looked like it would take at least an hour to get through. So I pushed my little trolley over to Terminal A. An extra 5 minutes of walking got me to a beautiful, empty taxi stand and a dozen waiting cars with the green "empty" light on.

Airlines 1 : 0 Noelle
Airports 1 : 0 Noelle
Other travelers 0: 1 Noelle
Water companies 1 : 0 Noelle

I guess it could've been worse. I had no strikes to deal with....

Saturday, July 07, 2007


I promise some good haggis-filled photos upon my return to Barcelona, but for the being I'd like to point out that there is nothing quite like sitting on a train out of London, looking out at the passing countryside while listening to Hall and Oats. If you've never tried it, you should. It's one of those not-to-be-missed life experiences.

I'm now about an hour outside of London, staying with some old family friends, and tomorrow I will be at Wimbledon with my dad for the men's final. Shocking that there is actually a men's final tomorrow, considering that the tournament was 177 matches behind just a few days ago... but I'm delighted. It will be my first Wimbledon and I'm absolutely thrilled to be going.

Back to Barcelona on Monday night, where I'll have 3 days to prepare for my three months away, starting in Peru on Saturday morning!

Monday, July 02, 2007


In case anyone is concerned, I have so far been unaffected by the nailbomb-filled cars, fiery Jeeps driving into airports, and controlled explosions that have filled the news this weekend. While it may force me to adjust my plans and possibly not head to Glasgow tomorrow for the day, it certainly hasn't affected me as much as the unusually crappy Scottish weather, which has called for mostly heavy clouds and chilly temperatures, with the occasional torrential downpour.

Having said that, I have managed to visit Rosslin Chapel (of Da Vinci Code fame) and, more importantly, have caught up with old friends from my Rockstar days. I've had a really great weekend, and today I plan to do more touristy Edinburgh things while the guys are all at work. (Haha! Work!)

I'm planning to take the train from Edinburgh to London on Thursday with an old pal from NYC (we thought this would be cooler than flying long before the Jeep crashed into the airport) and it will be interesting to see how security is stepped up in the wake of all this nonsense now that we're in a "Critical" state of alert. Critical is the highest, so I'm wondering now what happens if things get really out of control... SuperCritical? Megacritical? Stay tuned...

Oh and yesterday we escaped the rain at Allan's for a bit and played video games. I lost.