Monday, September 22, 2014

Sunday Shopping in Bogota

It wasn't a big surprise when we woke up disgustingly early on Sunday morning.

We weren't one hundred percent clear on the plan for the day since we had already hit up most of the major landmarks in Bogota the day before. We talked about hiring a car for the day to visit the nearby town of Zipaquira, but the thought of riding in a car in traffic was a bit off-putting. Instead, we decided to stay local and check out the flea market in Usaquen, one of the historic neighbourhoods of Bogota.

Unfortunately, the market doesn't really get going until later in the day, so we had more than a few hours to kill beforehand. Everything was still closed, but it looked like the mall may be open so we decided to walk over to check it out.

It turned out that the mall itself was open, but none of the stores were! Lucky for us, Juan Valdez (the local Starbucks equivalent) was open for business so we coffeed up and hung out on the open air terrace for a while.

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We mall walked a little to stretch our legs, and we were both surprised to find so many American brands, along with a cute umbrella installation that reminded me of London.

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We were finally able to grab a taxi and head over to the flea market. Our taxi driver was kind enough to tell us a bit about the neighbourhood as we made our way over to Usaquen, and we were more than excited to be dropped off in the middle of it all.

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The flea market takes place on Sundays, and there are a ton of stalls selling all sorts of things. There's a lot of jewellery and other handicrafts, along with the occasional food stall.

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We even saw some people carrying around puppies for sale!

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The festive ambience of the entire market was enhanced by the musicians scattered around everywhere.

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This guy was my favourite, he was playing a Beatles song (And I Love Her, in case you're wondering) on the harp.

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It did feel a bit crowded at times since the place was positively heaving with people.

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We made our way toward Hacienda Santa Barbara, which is a former home of a super rich guy that has been converted to a shopping centre. Along the way, the streets became more residential, and some of the more enterprising inhabitants were selling snacks and things out of the back of their home. I thought that was pretty clever!

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The mall itself turned out to be a bit of a disappointment - it was just a mall, nothing more. I guess I was expecting it to retain more of its former grandiose residential qualities. In any case, I suggested just walking around town, but J was pretty tired from the heat and ducking around the crowd so we headed back to the hotel.

We washed up and made the decision to actually go out for dinner that night. Granted, it was only three doors down from the hotel, but the restaurant had gotten some pretty good reviews so we walked over to Di Lucca.

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It's an Italian restaurant, and imagine our surprise when we discovered that it has THE best lasagna in the world. Seriously, you must go and eat this. I think J may have been considering delaying our departure from Bogota so we could eat at this restaurant for one more day. We could tell it was a pretty popular restaurant from how quickly it filled up and the waiters were constantly on the run.

It was a terrific end to our time in Bogota and getting to pet the hotel watchdog on the way back was just cherry on the icing.


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Ta, Off to Bogota

It was still dark when we had to wake up to catch our ridiculously early flight to Madrid and then on to Bogota. The cats thought that they won the lottery or something since we were awake without them having to do somersaults over our heads like most mornings, and they got an extra large breakfast to tide them over until the cat sitter shows up later today.

It's a long way to Colombia so J and I splurged a bit on our travel arrangements. We decided to take a cab and to roll business class. It was my first time turning left after getting on the plane, and let me tell you, I could get used to this! 


Only problem is, I'll soon be back in economy, remembering the olives and post meal aperitifs with a tear.

We landed in Bogota airport, and we loaded our stuff into a taxi to head over to the Sofitel Hotel, which was to be our home away from home for the next three days. I was beyond jet lagged and J hadn't slept a lick on the plane so it was all we could do to shower, order room service, and collapse into bed before 7pm.

It wasn't a big surprise when we both woke up the next morning before the sun was even up. We suited up and went to the gym to try to work on our fitness. Exercise felt a bit harder than normal, but I couldn't tell if it was the altitude (Bogota is at 2,600 meters) or the lack of food. And then my favourite part of any vacation finally came, hotel breakfast!

Colombia is home to a great variety of exotic fruits, and I got to sample quite a lot of them. I really enjoyed the pitahaya, Colombian guava, maracuya, and granadilla along with a vegetable omelette. Both J and I gulped down way too much coffee, and we were pretty pleased with ourselves by the end of our meal.


We grabbed a taxi outside our hotel and headed down to La Candelaria, which is the historic old town of Bogota. Along the way, our driver told us about the various sights that we could enjoy in town, and I thanked God that I still remembered some of my Spanish from high school. 

The driver dropped us off in front of the Botero Museum, which is a mansion that has been converted into a museum showcasing the art donated by a local artist, Fernando Botero. The building itself is absolutely beautiful once you're inside, and the central courtyard is pleasant and serene.

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The museum is dominated by his Botero's art, which was inspired by the fuller figure. Las figuras gordas, according to our taxi driver. It was awesome.

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Especially the fat Mona Lisa. I may have hollered a bit when I saw it, it was that awesome. 

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We then walked south toward La Plaza de Simon Bolivar, but it was a bit lifeless when we got there. 

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Perhaps it was the early hour, but the place was inundated with squillions of pigeons and not that many people were about, other than some locals with llamas. Yup, llamas. Llamas are cool, but I'm not such a fan of pigeons, so we booked it pretty quickly over to the Gold Museum.

We found out where all the people were along the way, and we also passed by the National Museum, which was a pretty cool building. You could tell it had been there for a while, unlike the Gold Museum.

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We reached the Gold Museum pretty quickly, and we roamed about inside until I was heartily sick of looking at gold. It's all really stunning, but it's also a bit overwhelming and exhausting to look at piece after piece of gold in rapid succession. 

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We took a quick coffee break and left the museum to hike our way up to the base of Monserrat. It was a bit uncomfortable walking uphill while breathing in the fumes of passing traffic, but at no point in time did I feel like we were ever in any danger, contrary to what I had read on some travel websites.

We bought tickets at the ticket office to ride the teleferico to the top of the mountain, and we had a grand old time once we reached the top.

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The view is absolutely incredible, and I was gobsmacked at how large and sprawling Bogota really is. It's home to 10-12 million souls, so it shouldn't be such a surprise, but it still takes your breath away to see it all spread out in front of you.

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There's also a church perched on top of the hill, and we took a quick peek inside. 

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There's also a small village catering to tourists, and J and I decided to have lunch at the Colombian restaurant with an amazing view.

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We both opted for traditional Colombian dishes. J had a dish that looked like he should farm 20 acres or so afterward, while I had a seafood curry type dish. It reminded me a lot of Thai food, especially with the coconut milk, but without any hot spices. It was also our first taste of arepas, which are Colombian corn pancake type things. The food was just so-so, I think the main draw for the restaurant is definitely the location and the view.

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After lunch, we hopped back on the teleferico to head back down the mountain and find a cab to take us back to the hotel. Along the way, J decided that he still had a bit of energy left so we decided to quickly check out Zona T, a shopping district close to our hotel. The streets are lined with shopping malls and tempting restaurants. Needless to say, the place was hopping on a Saturday night!

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We walked around a bit before we both decided to call it quits and beat it back to our hotel for a well deserved dinner and to rest up for the next day!








Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Sophie

I pretty much landed in London, unpacked, and hopped on a train to Essex to pick up a very important package. The newest member of our family, Sophie!


She had fun riding on the train to her new home but was very anxious to check out the scene, and I started to get more than a little nervous about how Casper would react to the new situation. He spends a lot of his time sleeping and eating and not doing much else, so I thought it'd be a good idea to get another cat to keep him company. He just seemed so damn bored all the time, so I thought I would liven things up.

Yup, definitely livened things up! At first, Casper didn't even realise there was anything hiding out in his carrier, but he figured it out pretty quick.



Then he got PISSED OFF. I probably went about it the wrong way, but it became pretty clear that Casper was pretty happy being an only child.



I couldn't help second-guessing my decision to bring Sophie home for the first week or so. We had to keep them separated whenever we weren't there to closely supervise, but Sophie didn't like that one bit since she likes staying close to the humans.


Casper would constantly be on the attack, but nothing fazed Sophie and she just kept on doing her thing even though she was being stalked by a cat that is more than three times her size. The girl has got some moxie!


Things finally started to click between the two of them when Sophie allowed Casper to groom her just a little bit. I think Casper was really frustrated that she wouldn't let him groom her, and he'd try to put her in a kitty headlock to force clean her.


Now that she's clean, they're definitely friends and hang out together!



They've also joined forces to beg for food together. I'm sorry to admit that I fold like paper under their combined cuteness.


Once Casper got comfortable with Sophie, we finally got a chance to see her personality, and she is infinitely more awesome than we could've hoped. First, she's a major cuddlebug and likes to start each morning and end each night with a cuddle while she sucks her thumb. Yup, you read that right. And I wake up most mornings to find her perched on top of my stomach, snoozing away.


She likes playing in dirty laundry and trying on my clothes.


She also gets very anxious about getting to her food fast enough, which means she gets it everywhere!


She's still teeny but growing apace and is really long right now, kind of like a ferret.


She's scrappy, independent, and loves going outside.



Basically, we love her.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Last Family Wedding

It took a while (too long, in my mother's opinion), but all three of us kids are now happily married! My older brother married his beautiful bride at Calamigos Ranch in Malibu, and I was lucky enough to be part of it all as a bridesmaid.

I had started with the cake days before, so I was pretty near finished when it was time to head to the venue for rehearsal on Friday. It was my first time seeing the venue in person, and the place was absolutely gorgeous! We spent an hour or so going through our paces in the blazing hot sun, so we were pretty excited to head into some glorious air conditioning for lunch afterward at Dukes.



The food was pretty good, and our server was a total bro, but the view was absolutely bonkers.


I headed back to my parents' house afterward, with plans to meet up with the other girls early the next day for hair and makeup. I'm not such a fan of getting pampered and stuff since I really dislike people touching me. I know it's strange, but it's the reason why I haven't had a massage or manicure ever. But I meekly submitted to the ministerings of the middle aged Korean lady and left the salon with a full face of makeup and false eyelashes. Luckily, I'm still rocking the pixie, so they couldn't really do much with my hair.

I got to escape the salon early since I had to pack up the cake and transport it to the venue, along with a pile of important stuff such as all the outfits for the bridal party, including the groom and the bride. We rented the largest SUV possible, which was a Chevy Tahoe, and it smelled suspiciously of weed. My younger brother and I loaded up the car and kept the air conditioning blasting to keep the cake as cool as possible. I just prayed that the wedding dress and cake wouldn't smell like marijuana by the time we arrived at the venue!

We got to the venue in one piece and on time, and I set up the cake and then we waited around until the rest of the bridal party showed up. The boys showed up with Big Macs for everyone (our heroes!), and then the girls finally arrived. Everyone got dressed, and the photographer was pretty stoked to get things started.


I couldn't help spying on the first look.


I wasn't the only spy... That's my dad, looking gangsta.


There wasn't much for me to do at that point since we had already posed for squillions of photos, so I cruised around while the venue put on the final decorating touches. It went from this...


To this, startlingly quickly!


It wasn't long before the guests started trickling in, and my sister in law pitched in to help with the reception table.


Then it was show time! I don't have many pictures after this point since I was pretty busy with my bridesmaid duties, but it was a beautiful wedding! I got a to snap a few moments during the reception.

My parents being introduced to the guests.


The happy newlyweds!


The cake cutting! Thank god it survived, and it didn't end up killing anyone. Go, me!


The bouquet toss. I wish I could've participated - there was a $100 in it for the winner! But being happily married is pretty good, too. 


Getting the garter. I didn't know my brother even had those kinds of dance skills!


All in all, it was a pretty bitching wedding, and I was way too pooped to make it to the after party.

But I was recovered enough for a small family brunch at dim sum the next day to hear all about it.


Then lunch with my other brother and his wife.


Then dinner with the whole family!


It was basically a day of eating with people I'm related to. Did I mention how awesome it is to have two sisters now?