Friday, January 13, 2012

Slowly Tri-ing: Walt Disney World Marathon Review – One of the Bes...

The Traveling Hillbilly's Little Sister Completed her first Marathon!   I'm so proud of her, I wanted to share her blog posting!

Slowly Tri-ing: Walt Disney World Marathon Review – One of the Bes...: WARNING: Really long post… many things to share! Expo: Marathon Expo....oh yea!! Jim & I left the house about 5:30 am on Satur...

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Reflections of a Great Vacation
As I sit here in the Coffee Bean reflecting back on my trip, I realize I’m taking away a lot more than just fond memories of time spent with old and new friends.    I have profound faith in the true goodness of people.    I have a renewed sense of what’s truly important in life.   And I’ve been given a strong reminder of what my true values are.
From the waiter that spent over 20 minutes looking through the bushes under the restaurant with a flashlight to find my friends camera on New Year’s Eve, to the owner of the hotel that personally drove us in his truck to the restaurant, to his daughter, who gave up a Friday night to so show some “gringos” around Valparaiso because she truly loves the city and is proud to show it off!   These are just genuinely good people, who enjoy life and want to make sure others do as well. 
Everywhere we went people were generally warm and friendly.  They always went out of their way to make sure we were having a good time.   I can’t tell you how many times, people apologized to us for not speaking English!    Apologizing to us?  Completely unnecessary!     I mean we are guests in their country.  
I’m sure there is greed, laziness and thievery everywhere, but in general the people in Peru and Chile seem to have found peace and balance.   Regardless of their economic situation, they seem happy and much less harried and stressed than most of the people I know.    They value their families and community and don’t seem so focused on just themselves.
A couple of my friends have already gone back to work and their first day back they were working until midnight, right back into the craziness and stress.   I really want to try and have a broader outlook on life, be more focused on others and the greater good.  Find a way to enjoy work without it becoming all consuming.   How long will it last?   How long will it take me to get completely wrapped up in work again?  How long before this vacation and my renewed outlook is just a distant memory?  A week?  A month?  Three days?  Only time will tell.
For now, I sit at the Coffee Bean with the hope that this is a new and fresh beginning.  That it is not just a fleeting vision that will only be renewed with my next vacation.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Charming Alvaro at the Casablanca Hotel, Ruta del Vino
After many hours, we finally get the rental car situation finalized and it’s time to head off to our hotel in Casablanca.   We have 4 nights of luxury, wine tasting and beach lounging ahead of us!   After so much traveling about, I can’t wait to get settled into a hotel and relax for a few days!  Given we left during “rush hour” we are expecting a lot of traffic heading out of the city in anticipation of the long weekend  New Year’s celebrations.  We are pleasantly surprised by the lack of traffic and it only takes an hour to get to Casablanca, our home until it’s time to head back to the states. 
I must admit the hotel has all the amenities one could want, a pool, a spa, a restaurant etc.   However, it appears to fall just a little short of the luxury I was expecting based on the website, especially considering I had just come from the W in Santiago. 
It appears to be under expansion and renovation.   It looks like it was a much smaller place with just a few rooms and a couple of cabins.   However, they have added a whole new section of rooms, along with a sauna and another pool.   I think within the next year, it will be beautiful, but right now it’s still in the “construction phase” and not quite up to expectations. 
However, the owners Alvaro and his wife Monica are the sweetest people you could ever hope to meet.  Alvaro greets us and has gone out of his way to make sure we are happy.  He is a very charming man and you can’t help but forgive the place its shortcomings because you can tell he has a vision for the place and is putting his heart and soul into it.   He and his wife run the place together.   It truly is charming but I guess the Traveling Hillbilly has become a little spoiled and was really hoping for a little more luxury the last few days of the trip.

Wine Tasting in Casablanca

So we decided to spend our first full day in Casablanca wine tasting.   We had four wineries we wanted to go to which seemed easily do-able.  However, after 6 hours on the road, we only made it to 3 wineries and we barely made it to the last one!   Wine tasting here is very different here than in California.  It is a more formal presentation and personalized experience.  Plus, it is actually more expensive than most of the wineries in California.   The first winery we go to tells us the tour is 2 hours!   It includes a “rodeo” show, a carriage ride through the vineyards, a tour of the wine museum and of course the tasting.   We are starting to understand why the hotel told is we could visit two wineries today and two tomorrow.   After some discussion with the winery, we settle on just the rodeo show and wine tasting.   We want more time to visit other wineries.   The tasting pours are very generous and they take the time to explain the process of how to truly taste the wine.   You can still get this in a lot of the California wineries, but they’ve just gotten so busy these days, you usually just get a quick pour off the menu. 
All in all it was a good day.   The wines were much better than I expected based on the wines from Chile I’ve had in the states.   I actually found a truly organic wine that I loved at Emiliana. 

The Traveling Hillbilly LOVES Santiago!
Based on what a couple of people had told me, my expectations for Santiago were low.  I was expecting a big city, smoggy, hot and humid!   I was very pleasantly surprised.   I think Santiago is a beautiful city.   The Traveling Hillbilly could live here.   Granted my friends and I stayed in Las Condes the newer business district, not in downtown or other older parts of the city but our experience here was great.   We had great restaurants nearby and lots to see and do, all within walking distance or a metro stop or two.  It is actually a lot like Los Angeles, very cosmopolitan, great weather, lots of outdoor activities and cool evenings.  I stayed at the W Santiago and felt the view from my room looked like the Hollywood Hills.   It was like I was staying on Sunset Plaza, but with better weather!  My only regret is we don’t have more time to spend here.    In hindsight, this would have made a great “home base” for doing day tours of Casablanca, Vina del Mar and Valparaiso.   Oh well. 
I wonder what the quarantine period is for bringing hound dogs into the area?    HHHHHHmmmmmmm, I might just have to look into that.