Monday, December 27, 2010

Things to do in Rio

After our first sleep in Rio, we decided (semi required) to spend the day on the beach since everything else was closed for Christmas. It was quite a lovely day to spend at the beach too! Hot, sunny and not a cloud in the sky (well, ok maybe a few, but they were way off in the distance). We rented a parasol umbrella for only $1.80, and it was the best money I ever spent! I can only imagine how red I would be now without it. We ended up spending about 3 hours on Impanema beach, which according to reports is a better beach than the more famous Copacabana beach. I thought it was really great. The sand was nice and soft and white; the water was warm; there was a nice breeze coming off the water; there was lovely scenery all around us as well as many beautiful people to look at (both of the male and female variety). So, our Christmas 2010 was basically spent lounging on the beach, reading, relaxing and catching some (but not too many) rays.
Once our water supply ran out, we decided to head back to the hostel for a quick shower then go for dinner. After much wandering, we finally settled on a tex-mex place where I had yummy tacos, and Matthew had fish quesadillas. After dinner and a quick nap at the hostel, we wandered over to the rocks that separate Impanema and Copacabana beaches to watch the sunset. It was quite nice and romantic. On our way back to the hostel, Matthew decided he wanted to try his first suco (juice) bar. He got Acai, and I decided to get melon. Then, he was keen on having dessert.
It was at this point that my stomach started to feel a little unwell. At first, we thought it was just being overly dehydrated because we had been out in the sun all day. But, not 10 minutes later, I was sick and lost all the tasty tacos I had eaten for dinner that evening. I decided to call it an early night and thought surely I would be fine in the morning. After all, we have a whole tour arranged to take us around the city and there were still lots more we wanted to on our last day in town! Oh, how naive I was...
Two hours later, the sickness at both ends started, and went every 20 minutes for the next few hours, then every 60 minutes. At 1am, we decided it must surely be food poisoning and asked our friend Google for any advice on how to deal with it. We were informed that it's one of those things that just has to pass on its own in a day or so. For the next full day - ALL of December 26 - I was laid up in bed being ill. Matthew was very good to me, brining me lots of water to help re-hydrate me, re-arranging our tour for the following day, getting the hostel owner to agree to keep the A/C on in the room during the day (I think I might have died were it not for that one!), and brining me a little food when I felt up to eat it. Now, I've never had food poisoning before, but as bad as it is on its own, you can just imagine how bad it is when you're stuck in a dorm room with 7 other guys and have a small shared bathroom down the hall to run to every time you're going to be sick! Needless to say, it was quite miserable. But I am grateful to Matthew for his help and kindness as well as to hostel owner Sylvia for her great hospitality.
Since all of Sunday was a bust for us, we had much ground to cover today. The city tour that we were scheduled to do yesterday was pushed back to today. So, we got to see Sugar Loaf Mountain, Christ the Redeemer statue, the famous tile steps (who's name escapes me at the moment) as well as numerous other sights in Rio. We were quite lucky to get to see both the mountain and the statue as for the last couple days they were too heavy in clouds to see anything. Photos to come to Facebook soon (and also perhaps a few here). It was quite a full day and well worth it, I thought. I was able to get a couple of small souvenirs, but I still have yet to get my magnet. Since Impanema does not apparently have any souvenir shops (go figure!), I will have to hope that they have a few to purchase at the airport tomorrow morning before we leave for Iguazu Falls.
So that has been our Rio advenutre. Not at all what I had expected or would have really hoped (being sick anywhere is no fun!), but a good time nonetheless. I am glad to say that I have seen Rio, although, I think next time I will come during their winter season and will bring a bigger water bottle!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Here are my first attempts to post pictures to this blog. Geez, it took me long enough to figure out! Posted are two photos of our time in Chicago. One is of Matthew and I reflected in the Bean, and the other is of me posing with the great view of Chicago in the background while visiting the Hancock tower.

Friday, December 24, 2010

5 and counting!

We finally made it! I am currently writing this post from my bed at the hostel in Rio de Janeiro! I'll come to my first impressions of the city in a moment, but I should recap the extensive travels we went through in order to make it here first.
We departed Ottawa on time and made it into Chicago a half hour before schedule. This meant, we had a full 8 hours before our next flight. So, with our carry on packs, we took the train into Chicago's downtown and did everything I had hoped to do and more! We first went to Millennium park to see "the bean", then walked up the Magnificent Mile all the way to the Hancock Tower where we went up to the observation deck and had a great view and short audio tour of the city. From there, we wandered to Gino's East to try their famous deep dish pizza. My verdict: it was good (lots of gooey cheese), but the crust was dry and had a similar texture to cornmeal. Personally, I think Matthew's pizza is way better! We were able to do all of this and still had oodles of time to take the hour long train ride back to the airport, go through security again to catch our next flight. Overall, a successful and fun layover trip in the windy city! (Which thankfully wasn't that windy or cold - which is especially good since we had minimal winter clothes on!)
After an uneventful flight to Miami (which I mostly slept through), we went out on a hunt for dinner. I have to say, Miami airport fails in the food department. We looked at the terminal map and decided to go to the opposite end of the terminal from where we landed because it was closer to our departure gate and the restaurants looked better to us. But when we finally arrived, all of the advertised restaurants we boarded up and labelled "coming soon", causing us to trek all the way back to our original location in the airport. I was not impressed. As our next flight to Buenos Aires was an over night flight, I decided it would be best if I was extra comfy. So, just before we started boarding, I changed into my pyjama bottoms, charged up my ipod and took a half a sleeping pill. Not 10 minutes after take off, I was sound a sleep and didn't wake up for a solid 6 hours. Half a pill, sleep music, an eye mask and a comfy pillow are really the keys to getting a good night sleep on a plane! The combo has worked well for me so many times!
We had another long layover when we arrived in Buenos Aires, which is good since it limited our stress of having to make a connecting flight. We had a longer than usual interaction with immigration because we weren't technically staying in Argentina and so shouldn't have to pay the $75USD they charge Canadians upon arrival. After explaining our situation to a couple of friendly agents, they stamps our forms and sent us on our way to check in for our flight to Rio. We grabbed lunch, read in uncomfortable chairs and basically chilled for 4 hours. When our plane was finally due to start boarding, there was hardly anyone at the gate. There were only 14 people on the entire flight! The plane was an A330 (a fairly large one) and so they decided to move every one up to business class! It was really great! I highly recommend flying TAM airways!
We arrived in Rio and almost immediately I began to sweat up a storm and my hair started to frizz. It's really humid here, even at 10pm. We went through customs and immigration without any issues, but while waiting for our luggage, I did see a few cases of "When plastic surgery goes bad". It's hard not to stare and wonder why. Anyhow, we then went out to find a cab to take us to our hostel. Had we not arrived at 8pm, we may have taken a cheaper bus alternative, but we thought, given the time and the amount of stuff we have to carry, it would be smarter to just cab it. Our cabbie negotiated a price with us before we left and it was the same price the hostel told me it would likely cost so I was satisfied. We got into the back and I discovered that my seatbelt was broken. Normally, I wouldn't be so concerned, but Brazilian drivers seem a little crazy. Our cabbie was going very fast and many people seem to change lanes quite erratically. I thought it was quite telling when our cab driver blew past a cop car going 20 km over the speed limit and he did nothing. From what I could see of the city itself though, even though it was dark, it looked very nice. Our hostel is in Impanema which is a nicer part of town and not far from one of the best beaches (or so I'm told - will find out for sure in the next day or so!) The cab driver was very helpful and got us to our proper hostel. The hostel itself is nice and the owner, a woman named Silvia, I believe is a bundle of energy. She was quite the hostess when we arrived and made us feel quite welcome. They had prepared a christmas dinner for the guests tonight so we got to enjoy a nice free (if not cold) meal. After our long day, it was much appreciated!
So that is an update on this trip. I would also like to point out that this now is officially the 5th continent that I have been on! Only 2 more to go! But, those are for another time. I think I'll stick to enjoying this one first!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Stop one of many

It's currently 5:45am and we have just gone through US customs and have another hour before our scheduled flight to Chicago. Normally, I would spend this time people watching, browsing the shops and debating as to whether or not I should buy some over priced airport food. Today, however, I am blogging at the gate. Believe it or not, this is actually the first time I am travelling with a laptop. On past trips, I have always just made use of local internet cafes. This trip, however, for whatever reason, I decided to bring my own computer. I think it could be due to a combination of not wanting to waste money to use some one else's computer, having good access to free wifi throughout most of the continent, and also a little bit of paranoia in losing my precious travel photos. This fear stems from my trip to South East Asia when my camera was lost and so were most of my photos. It was a devastating experience, and one I have no desire to repeat. By bringing my own computer, I can upload my photos regularly and Matthew even helped me set up "drop box" so that if something (God forbid) happens to my laptop, I will still have my photos.
For those who don't know, this trip has the hope to be quite epic. We will be visiting 4 countries in just 2 weeks (bringing my grand total of countries visited to 26!). Compared to my previous trips to Europe this may not see like a quick passed trip, but when you realize the grandeur of countries like Brazil, it seems a bit more reasonable.
Once we depart Ottawa, we will be travelling to Chicago, where we have a 7.5 hour layover. This may seem like a long layover, and I suppose it is, but I plan on making the most of the time we have there. I would say that 7 hours is the minimum amount of time needed in order to justify leaving the airport and seeing the city. So that is what we will do. Take the train to downtown Chicago and sample their famous deep dish pizza! I have never been to the windy city before, and so I am quite excited. I know that there are many things that we just won't have time to do during our visit today, but so long as we try the pizza I will be happy. If we have time to visit "the Bean" as well, it's a bonus.
From Chicago, we fly to Miami for a short(er) layover before leaving just after 11pm for Buenos Aires. As this is an overnight flight, I plan to sleep as much as I can. I have my eye mask, pyjama pants, slippers and my ipod is loaded with music designed to help you sleep. I think I'm set! Once we arrive in Buenos Aires, we have 5 hours to pick up our bags, check in with TAM airlines and then wait for our flight to Rio de Janeiro. If all goes according to plan, we should arrive by 8pm tomorrow night. Ugh. What a long couple of days!
This being my first official post for this trip, I suppose I should say what my hopes and expectations are for this trip and what I am most looking forward to. I hope that this will be a fun trip. I hope that all my planning will have paid off and that plans will run smoothly. I expect there to be obstacles along the way, but I am still hopeful that things will go fairly well and according to plan. I also expect there to be times where I get stressed out or upset, but I hope that I will recognize these feelings early and be able to react to them appropriately. In the months leading up to this trip, I have become more anxious and excited for various things. At first it was just going to a new continent. Then, it was the anticipation of the food (I love a good steak!). But now, strangely enough, I am really looking forward to the beaches. For those that know me best, I say this is strange, because I am generally not a beach-loving person. But, for whatever reason, I am excited to just sit on the beach and relax.
Best line heard at the airport so far:
Girl: How much did you pay for your sandwich?
Guy:$7, but it tastes like $2!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

One more sleep!

It's been well over a year since a big travel adventure and I am happy to say that I am now packed and ready to go! Tomorrow Matthew and I will begin our trip which will take us to 4 countries in South America. We will have a very early start to our day (wake up around 3:30am!) and will spend the first 36 hours getting from Ottawa to our first official destination: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It will be quite the trek just to get there but I am optimistic that we will have a fun (and hopefully low stress) time. Keep checking back here as I will be bringing my laptop with me to update my blog as we go! Comments are always welcome! :-)