Top 5 Things To Do In Pittsburgh

North America

 

Pittsburgh is an often overlooked city in the Midwest, but for me, it’s certainly worth a visit. If you find yourself in the steel city, don’t miss my top five things to do in Pittsburgh!

Visit the Phipps Conservatory

The Phipps Conservatory is ranked No. 2 on TripAdvisor for a reason. The place is perfect for a visit when you’re craving some green space in the crowded city. It has rooms full of flowers, stunning glass sculptures, and even a large outdoor botanical garden. When you’re done exploring, make sure you don’t miss the award-winning cafe for a snack before you leave.

Educate Yourself

Did you know Pittsburgh has over 30 museums? No matter what you’re into, the city has a museum to fit your tastes. The eclectic variety includes the popular (and free!) Bicycle Heaven museum, which is billed as “the world’s largest bicycle museum and bike shop.” For history lovers, there’s the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, and of course, art aficionados can’t miss the Andy Warhol Museum, which features seven floors of the Pittsburgh native’s iconic work.

 

Discover Events at the Convention Center

Ok, this is a 100 percent true story. When my sister and I visited Pittsburgh, it started to rain, so we took shelter at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. It was huge, and we started wandering through it. We walked through empty floors and rooms, and then came out in … the Yu-Gi-Oh! Championship Series. What? It was a serious event, and people were even winning trips to Tokyo! I’ll never forget stumbling across that. If you’re in Pittsburgh, check out some of the unique events on the calendar this year at the Convention Center, like the Pittsburgh Pet Expo or The Fun & Grub Drinkfest aPalooza. And if you’re in Pittsburgh FOR a convention, use this list of hotels nearby to make your stay as convenient as possible.

Catch a Game

I’m from Ohio, so I’m a diehard Bengals fan, and the Steelers are our biggest rivals. However, cheering against a team is almost as much fun as cheering for one, which is why a visit to the Heinz Field for a football game is definitely on the list. If football isn’t your thing, you can also catch a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball game or see the Penguins play hockey at the PPG Paints Arena.

Eat and Drink!

No one does craft beer like the Midwest. If you’re a beer buff (like me!), you’re in luck. There are tons of different breweries to try, and even whole tours dedicated to taking you behind the scenes at the best ones. Pittsburgh’s food game is on point as well. Enjoy an Italian sandwich at the world-famous Primanti Brothers, and, of course, don’t forget to try the Pittsburgh staple: pierogies!

 

Pittsburgh isn’t just a steel city anymore. There are many amazing parks, museums, restaurants, and events to make a weekend in the city well worth the trip. Next time you visit Pittsburgh, cross my top five things to do off your bucket list!

by Sep 21, 2017

The Top 3 Peruvian Islands in Lake Titicaca

Peru

 

The Top 3 Peruvian Islands in Lake Titicaca

 

Lake Titicaca is a popular tourist destination because it’s the highest navigable lake on earth, and the Peruvian islands in Lake Titicaca are a popular tourist destination. Like hiking Colca Canyon, visiting the Peruvian islands in Lake Titicaca is an iconic and essential stop while vacationing in Arequipa. While there are plenty of likes that sit at higher elevations, Lake Titicaca is the highest that people live on and that boats can navigate. So, how high is Lake Titicaca? It sits at 12,500 ft. The lake also straddles the border between Peru and Bolivia, which means that half the coast line and islands are on Bolivian soil, and the other half are in Peru.

Because Bolivia requires a $140 visa entrance fee for Americans, unfortunately this time around Daniel and I only chose to see the Peruvian islands in Lake Titicaca. We only had a weekend, and there was plenty to do just in Peru to fill that time. If you choose to see the Bolivian side also, definitely budget four or five days to see it all.

 

How To Get There

To visit the top 3 Peruvian islands at Lake Titicaca, you will need to start off in Puno. Puno is a small city on the edge of the lake, and the jumping off point for most of the tours to the islands. The best time to visit Puno is when traveling between Arequipa and Cusco. If you take a bus from one destination to the other, it will stop in Puno which lies between them, and is about a 6 hours bus ride from each city. So, when planning your trip to Peru, make sure you add in a few days between your visits to Arequipa and Cusco to stop in Puno to see Lake Titicaca.

Puno actually doesn’t have much to see, so it’s best to get in at night, and start your tours of the lake the next day. When you get to Puno, there will be tons of different tour options for you to choose from. Lake Titicaca is huge, at over 3,000 square miles, and has a depth of almost 9,000 feet! There are plenty of islands on the lake, and there is a LOT to see and do in the area. So what should you plan to visit?

 

The Top 3 Peruvian Islands in Lake Titicaca.

 

1. Amantani Island

Amantani Island just started to become a part of the tourist circuit five or six years ago. The island is small, at only about three and a half square miles. It has about 800 families on it divided into 10 small communities. Amantani Island is a three hour boat ride from Puno.

Why you should visit: The unique thing about Amantani island, and my favorite part of the visit, was the homestay we were given. We ate lunch, dinner, and breakfast with a local family and were invited into their houses to sleep. Flora, our “mother”, was extremely kind and her house was very comfortable. It even included a large balcony with a stunning view of the lake. That night, we were all invited to a local fiesta where we were given traditional outfits to wear. Musicians from across the island came to play and they taught us the traditional dances of the community. It was a really fun experience.

What to do: While on Amantani, don’t miss the climb up to the highest point on the island. there are two small mountains that each have a temple on top of them, the temple of the moon and the temple of the sun. We climbed to the Pachatata temple. The climb is fairly easy. It’s on a paved path and though it goes up for 45 minutes, it’s not very steep. There are also vendors selling souvenirs, snacks, and even cold beers along the climb if you need a break. Once you get to the top of the mountain, the 360 degree view is stunning. You can see the sparkling blue water, surrounding islands, and even into Bolivia. While up there, just make sure you walk around the temple three times – once for health, once for money, and once for love – and then place a rock at the gate for good luck. My tip: climb up in the afternoon to enjoy the sunset over the water!

 

 

 

2. Taquile Island

Taquile island is another popular destination on the lake. Like Amantani Island, Taquile island is also a three hour boat ride from Puno, and about a one hour ride from Amantani. However, Taquile island is about double the size of Amantani in both square milage and population.

Why you should visit: The most unique thing about Taquile island is the community of knitting men. These men do exactly what it sounds like… they knit. Their products are beautiful, thick, and high quality, and they are all made by hand. There is a large market in the central plaza de armas where you can buy scarves, headbands, gloves, and traditional belts and hats from them. They’re expensive (some of the hats take up to two months to knit!) but unique and make great souvenirs and gifts.

What to do: We docked on one side of the island and walked an hour to the main square. The walk was high up along the coast line, and had amazing views the whole way. In the square, we visited the marketplace. Afterwards, we enjoyed a lunch of baked fish and potatoes with a view of the island farmland and blue sparking water. Finally, we walked back down tot he other side of the island to a second port to meet our boat again. If you visit Taquile, make sure you walk across the entire island to enjoy the many different beautiful views of the lake!

 

 

 

 

3. Uros Floating Islands

The Uros floating islands are the easiest island to visit from Puno, because they are only a 20 minute boat ride away. These islands are manmade by the Uros community thta lives on them. Mud, roots, and reed plants make up the base of the island, which float precariously on top of Lake Titicaca’s calm waters. The Uros community has built more than 85 inhabited islands.

Why you should visit: The Uros Floating Islands are incredibly unique because they’re just that: man-made, floating islands. When you visit the islands, you will meet community members who will show you how they build the islands and anchor them down. The islands, their homes, and all the crafts they sell are all made out of the reeds that grow in Lake Titicaca. They’re edible too, so you can even try a bite!

What to do: While on the islands, you can take a $3 ride in their traditional boats (that they used to live on before they began building more permanent islands). Check out their unique hanging mobiles and handicrafts, and visit the Uros Capital Island, which has hostels, restaurants, markets, and even a hospital and school built on it.

 

 

 

Amantani Island, Taquile Island, and the Uros Floating Islands are the the top 3 Peruvian islands in Lake Titicaca. Buy a $30 tour, and spend two days and one night visiting all of these unique sites on the highest navigable lake in the world!

All my love,

Di

 

by Sep 18, 2017

What is a South American Suicide Shower?

Life Style

 

Have you ever heard of a suicide shower? I hadn't until I moved to South America this year but now, unfortunately, I can tell you all about them. I've had a lot of experience with these suicide showers in the past few months. So far, I've lived to tell the tale.

 

What is a Suicide Shower?

 

Suicide shower is the nickname given to electrically heated showers. As you can probably guess, the name originates from the fact that combining water and electricity usually doesn't end too well. But, for some reason down here in Peru this is the water heating system of choice, which means Daniel and I have been showering under exposed electric wires for the past 3 months.

Really, I promise I'm not being dramatic here. The term "suicide shower" is a real nickname used for these ridiculous death contraptions, and they have caused multiple deaths around the world. Google it if you don't believe me. (But really don't. It's sad.)

Our suicide shower was especially bad in Cusco, where the wires ran out of the light socket and directly into the shower head, most of them just taped together with electrical tape, sticking out haphazardly (seriously how many wires does it need?!) with no sort of order or arrangement to them at all.

The water gets heated as it runs through the shower head itself, so another fun aspect of a suicide shower is the lower the water pressure is, the hotter the water will be. That means you can have a warmish shower with ok water pressure, or you can have a hot shower a couple drops at a time. When you have a mane like mine, this means spending even longer in the death trap.

After living in Peru for three months I now consider myself an expert in the subject of sketchy shower practices. Without further ado, I present:

 

The Complete Guide to Surviving a Suicide Shower

 

Step 1: Lower your hygiene standards so you are ok with showering as little as possible (never mind the strenuous hikes and climbs you are doing weekly in this part of the world). Once or twice a week is best.

Step 2: Brush your hair and prep everything you need so you can get in and out of there as fast as possible.

Step 3: Turn on the suicide shower and think of anything else except the exposed wires that are running into the shower head, ready and waiting to kill you when you least expect it. Say a prayer.

Step 4: Decide you're not going down in a shower related accident, wimp out, turn off the shower, and heat up a pot of water for the sad and pathetic bucket shower you deserve.

ANYWAY this is usually the method I go for! I am still alive so it has definitely been working well so far! If you come across one of these bad boys on your travels through South America, keep this advice in mind because you surely don't want to be remembered as the guy who was killed by a shower 🙂

Good luck and happy travels!

All my love,

Di

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by Sep 14, 2017

Hiking Colca Canyon: The World’s Second Deepest Canyon

Peru

 

Hiking Colca Canyon: The World’s Second Deepest Canyon

Hiking Colca Canyon is the most popular tour from Arequipa, Peru, and the reason why many tourists come to this city. It’s the world’s second deepest canyon, reaching 11,400 ft deep at its greatest depth. (The deepest canyon is in Tibet, and the Grand Canyon ranks 4th). Daniel and I of course decided to check it out! Here is my review of the two day, one night trek hiking Colca Canyon.

The Stats

Cost: $30 per person, plus another $21 pp for the tourist ticket for entrance into the canyon. These costs include transportation, breakfast, lunch, and dinner on the first day, breakfast on the second day, a place to sleep, and a guide. Extra costs include buying water on the trek, a tip for the guide, and lunch on the last day. The tour is easy to book in any tour agency in the city center.

Time: We were picked up at 3 am in Arequipa on the first day, and returned to the city at 5pm on day two.

Distance: The first day hiking Colca Canyon we walked 13.5 miles, and the second we walked 9 miles. That meant about seven hours of walking on day one and four hours on day two.

Altitude: The trek started at 10,700 ft. From there, we descended into the canyon down to the oasis at 7,300 ft. Just remember, the next day you will have to climb right back out of it!

 

Day One: Descent Into the Oasis

Day one of hiking Colca Canyon started at 3am, just like most tours in Peru. The van picked us up and then made its rounds to the hostels slowly filling up with fellow travelers. Once we were done, we started the drive out to Chivay, the gateway into Colca Canyon. On the way, we passed the highest altitude we would reach on the trip at 15,700 ft. Three hours later, we stopped in Chivay for a quick breakfast, and then continued another hour to our first stop at 8:30am – the Cruz del Condor.

Cruz del Condor

The Cruz del Condor is a popular lookout in Colca Canyon. The high point offers stunning views of the depth of the gorge, and is a perfect place to spot the giant condors who live there. Condors are a species of vulture, and they’re HUGE. They’re the largest flying birds in the western hemisphere, and you’re all but guaranteed to spot a couple at the canyon lookout. Watching the giant birds glide over the depths of the canyon was a stunning experience, and definitely a must for any birders.

 

Start of the Trek

Next, we drove another hour to the starting point of the trek outside the town of Cabanaconde. Here, we were split into new groups of about ten each and were introduced to our tour guides. We walked to the edge of the Colca Canyon and began the 2.5 hour descent to the bottom.

 

 

The descent was hot and sunny, but the views were beautiful. Once we reached the bottom, we had a rest next to the rushing Colca river, and then it was another 30 minutes of up and down hiking until our lunch. Lunch was in a cute restaurant with plenty of green space, flowers, and beautiful views, and was a perfect midday rest. Afterwards, we walked another 2 hours up and down the side of the canyon until we finally descended into the oasis.

 

Sangalle Oasis

The Sangalle Oasis has to be seen to be believed. The small circle of greenery is like a lush Garden of Eden. Flowers bloomed in every color and multiple pools sparkled in the sun while waterfalls rushed into them. It was like another world, a true oasis tucked away between the high stone walls of Colca Canyon.

 

 

Unfortunately, we arrived around 5pm, so we couldn’t take advantage of the pools in the hot sun. We had a few hours to relax, and then it was dinner, a beer or two, and bed time by 8pm. Before we passed out in the basic (but comfortable) bed, Daniel and I took a minute to stargaze. The night sky was absolutely stunning. I’ve been to 25 countries in my life, but I’ve never, ever been somewhere with stars like this. Millions dotted the night sky, and the milky way glowed brightly through the middle of it, outshining them all. Just seeing the stars was actually my favorite part of the trip!

 

Day Two: The Climb and Return to Arequipa

Day two of our trek began at 4am. We met the rest of the group at 4:30 and started the uphill hike back out the Canyon. We returned by a different and shorter route than we came in, and it took about 3 hours to climb it. We began in the dark. The temperatures were cool, and the headlights of the groups ahead of us bobbed in the night like shining stars. Soon, the sun began to rise and the canyon lit up. The hike was timed perfectly, and we reached the top just as the heat of the sun began to reach us.

The climb itself wasn’t too strenuous, and despite being only uphill, the switchbacks were nice and wide, and the temps were nice. The hike was really pleasant. Hiking Colca Canyon was just difficult enough to feel like an achievement, but easy enough that we weren’t completely wiped out by the time we reached the top (unlike our harrowing experience on Misti Volcano!) Once we completed the climb, it was another 20 minutes back to Cabanaconde, where a hot breakfast of bread, eggs, and some much needed coffee awaited us. At 9am, we began the long drive home, with a few stops in between of course.

Stop 1: Pre-Incan Terraces

The first stop was to take photos at a part of Colca valley filled with pre-Incan terraces. The view was stunning, and there was even a small bar selling pisco sours for those really trying to relax after the climb!

 

Stop 2: Hot Springs

The next stop was at the optional hot springs. The springs run into pools along the Colca River, and for a $5 entrance fee you can use the changing rooms and take a dip in pools of all temperatures. We stopped at the springs for about an hour to soak after the long hike.

Stop 3: Chivay

The third stop on the way home from hiking Colca Canyon is again in the town of Chivay. Here there is the non-included lunch buffet for $10. However, there are other restaurants to eat at around the town, but Daniel and I can’t recommend any because we chose to pack a lunch instead. Chivay is also where a lot of travelers split from the group, and continue on to Puno to see Lake Titicaca rather than backtrack to Arequipa. Combining your Colca Canyon tour with Lake Titicaca is efficient and cost effective if you’re planning to visit them both.

Stop 4: Volcanos Views

Our final stops were just quick 10 minute stops to take photos. The first was at a volcano lookout. We could see different volcanoes in every direction, including the erupting Sabancaya Volcano. It looked like a martian landscape surrounded us, with gray ash and dust, the smoking volcano, and piles of stacked rocks in every direction. Spooky.

 

 

Stop 5: Salinas and Aguada Blanca National Reserve

For our last stop, we pulled over when we passed through the Salinas and Aguada Blanca National Reserve. Pools of water and herds of alpacas and llamas dominated the landscape. We were even lucky enough to spot some flamingos and wild vincunya on the drive through as well. It was beautiful!

 

 

Finally, we completed the drive back to Arequipa. We got back to the city at 5pm, ready for dinner and a lazy night watching TV in our apartment. Hiking Colca Canyon is an easy weekend trip, and we had a great time. The unique oasis, condor spottings, and trek into the second deepest canyon in the world make it a must visit for any tourist in Arequipa, and one that I definitely recommend!

All my love,

Di

 

 

 

by Sep 11, 2017

Why You Need to Visit Colorado’s Garden of the Gods

North America

Why You Need to Visit Colorado’s Garden of the Gods

 

The short answer is because it’s amazing. The long answer is below…

 

 

Colorado’s Garden of the Gods is a free city park outside of the city of Colorado Springs. If you are based in Denver on your trip, the Garden of the Gods is only a short drive away. Like Boulder and Rocky Mountain National Park, the destination makes for an easy day trip.

The park is called the Garden of the Gods because the surveyor who discovered it thought it would make a great place for a beer garden (it really would tho). His partner disagreed, and stated that if it was a beer garden, it would be a garden fit for the Gods, and that’s how its name came about. The park was actually kept as private property for years, until 1909 when the owner died and donated his land to the city of Colorado Springs. Now, it’s one of Colorado’s most beautiful features, and an awesome day trip from Denver.

 

 

Reasons to Visit Colorado’s Garden of the Gods

  • It’s FREE
  • It’s unique and one of a kind
  • It’s a beautiful place to hike and climb
  • It’s less than an hour and a half drive from Denver
  • It’s open late, so it’s a perfect place to watch the sunset or enjoy a nighttime picnic
  • Inside the park, you can also visit the “Balancing Rock” and “Siamese Twins” formations
  • It’s close to Colorado Springs, so you can visit the city for dinner and drinks after you trip
  • Pikes Peak, on of the highest peaks in the Rocky Mountain range, is only an hour drive from Garden of the Gods, making it the perfect second spot to combine with your day trip.

 

 

Daniel and I had an amazing day trip to Colorado’s Garden of the Gods during our November honeymoon. If you’re in the Denver area, don’t miss this beautiful and unique city park!

 

 

 

by Sep 5, 2017

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