Colonia, Uruguay: An Outdoor Vintage Car “Museum”

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Colonia del Sacramento, as I wrote earlier, is a very historic town that belies the complexity of the colonial times in this part of South America, when Portugal and Spain fought for control of the massive land expanses.  Charming architecture and the old ruins of forts and walls take you back to olden times.

However, there is another element present in the town that takes you back to older times, though not as far back as colonial times:  vintage cars!  I was not expecting this and it was fun to run into old (parked!) cars as we explored the town.  This is the kind of thing that makes me wish I were an expert in old cars as I would have greatly enjoyed naming models and years…

So, the only thing left for me to do was to capture the images and let any of you out there, via comments on this post, share your knowledge of these gems!  And check out the last one – ingenious re-purposing of a vehicle!

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This one has been turned into a planter!

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Vauxhall

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Ford V8

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Austin

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Ford Super Deluxe

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Ford Super Deluxe

And this old geezer has been turned into… a restaurant table!  Ingenious!

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Creative use of an old car: restaurant table!

A Year (or the World?) Ends… Either Way, I Travel

Photo of people reflected in the fender of a car

Well, today is the day the apocalypse was to happen.  I guess a few hours are still left so maybe I shouldn’t count my eggs just yet.  BUT, if the end did happen, guess what?  I can still blog from purgatory and you KNOW that would be an incredible travel story.  Just hope it is not one of being stuck there forever, like when I was stuck in Europe because of the Icelandic volcano (which did turn out well) or someone else’s horrible travel story.  Also, if the world did end, purgatory looks a lot like my house (and if the world did NOT end, I need to make some minor changes at home…).

So the end of anything usually calls for some reflection and be it the end of the world or the end of the year, I feel like reflecting on my very busy 2012…

A Texas tweetup in January

January saw me taking what felt like a bold step – to travel somewhere to meet people I met online.  At first that has an almost dirty sound to it, doesn’t it?  But I had been talking on Twitter with these three folks for many months and they were clearly people I would enjoy meeting in person and exploring with.  So off to awesome Austin, Texas for the Texas tweetup!  There I met in person @kirkcole, @L_e_a_h, and @LolaDiMarco.  Unfortunately, a severe cold hit me on the day I traveled so I was not able to partake in all the activities but enjoyed a good day’s worth of laughing and eating in Austin!

Photo of people reflected in the fender of a car

Can you find the Austin tweetup fab 5 in the picture?

Normal in February – and other months

Traveling to DC for work permeates every month this year so my normal continued in February.  Recovered from the Austin tweetup and post-Christmas parties in January, February was time to relax and be home (or in DC). Over the year, I got to check new things in DC that I had not explored yet in the last year.  Doing the White House tour was a long-time bucket list item that I finally made happen.  I continued exploring and enjoying many of the DC’s finest hotels like The Mayflower, the Sofitel Lafayette, and the Renaissance on 9th St.  DC is a wonderful town if you get out and explore.  Its many beautiful brownstones and local eateries are a joy to explore.

March Madness:  Mile High Skiing

The traveling continued in March – this time a great ski trip with dear friends to Vail and Breckendridge, two places I had been dying to try for many years.  The trip did not disappoint and neither did my skiing, not having skied since Valle Nevado, Chile in the Andes in 2010.  Vail and Breck WILL be in a future ski trip for me, I can tell.  The bowls of Vail where incredible:  one bowl, then another one behind it, then another.  It seemed to never end!

Statue of skier in Vail, Colorado

How thoughtful! Vail had a statue of me at the base of one of the slopes!

Amicci en Italia and diving into eastern Europe in April

April finally brought about the “long”-planned trip to Italy with two sets of great friends.  Though mainly focused on Rome (a city I love re-visiting), a side trip to finally see Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast was built into the itinerary.  It did not disappoint, especially our guide in Pompeii, one of the preeminent experts on Pompeii!.

But I took advantage of being on the other side of the pond to add another iconic destination I had never explored:  Dubrovnik, Croatia.  Its tiled roofs and architecture combined with the natural setting of its location made it a magical place for me.  Of course, ever eager to see more, I decided to get further into eastern Europe while in Dubrovnik by doing day trips into Bosnia & Herzegovina (Mostar) and into the beautiful mountains and bays of Montenegro!  These day trips were short, obviously, but they definitely opened the appetite to see more of these countries and this part of Europe.

View from up high of Kotor Bay in Montenegro

One of the ridges that divides Kotor Bay into 2 bays in Montenegro

Re-charging, re-connecting, and exploring Chicago

May saw a second tweetup, this time in the Windy City since we were eager to connect with other travel bloggers we had been chatting with for awhile.  The Windy City tweetup had a little bit of everything:  from French goodness (courtesy of the Sofitel Water Tower), Charlie’s Angels, boat tour, fallen traffic lights (not our fault!), doughnuts, cold coffee, good food, drinks (repeat), and the mob.  It was a very fun weekend indeed meeting @workmomtravels, @travelingted, @jettingaround, and @elatlboy in person.

Posing in front of the Bean in Chicago at Millenium Park

Being tourists at The Bean

More fun with fellow travelers and good learnings

In June, TBEX, a travel bloggers conference, held its North America conference in Keystone, Colorado (very close to Breckenridge where I’d just been 3 months before; who knew I would be returning to the area so soon!).  Besides the interesting learnings, the reception at the mountaintop on Friday night and the ensuing party at the pub at base (free!) really made the weekend a lot of fun and a good time to meet others who share the travel bug and re-connect with others.  Among the great folks I met (too many to list all!):  @BlBrtravel, @stayadventurous, @captainandclark, @lazytravelers, @budgettravelsac, and @travelrinserept.

A trek with a purpose in Romania and a true relic of the USSR

Romania had been a mysterious place that I had always dreamed of seeing.  Not because I knew I would love it but it just called to me.  A wonderful opportunity came my way to do a hike in the Transylvanian Alps with Trekking for Kids, a non-profit seeking to bring improved lives to orphaned/at-risk children around the world.  We worked with the orphanage and just “were” with the kids before and after a hike through some beautiful landscapes around Brasov – we even saw castles other than Dracula’s!  An experience I will never forget every which way, including it was my first multi-day hike ever!

Sphinx-like rock in the Bucegi Mountains near Omu Peak, Romania

Who knew there was a Sphinx atop the Transylvanian Alps (near Omu Peak)??

Since I was headed that way, I decided Romania (more precisely, the town of Iasi, Romania’s cultural capital) would be a great springboard to explore Moldova.  So with my great guide, I explored churches, monasteries, towns (including the capital, Chisinau), and wineries in this little known former Soviet socialist republic still working to undo decades of horrible communist dictatorship.  I am SO glad I made the time for this unpolished gem at the edge of eastern Europe!

The trip ended with a one-day, two-night in awesome Paris, my home away from home in Europe.  Always love re-visiting my favorite areas and still finding new things to enjoy!

Time with Family in Tampa on my sister’s birthday in August

August also included a trip to Tampa where my family lives – always good to be with them, and enjoy good Cuban food and TLC!  I had just been there in June (when I visited the impressively set-up Dali museum) but my Mom turned 70 while I was in Romania and my sister was hitting a milestone birthday of her own in August so I just HAD to go and celebrate with them!

Rest in September

In September, I took a break from travel.  Well, non-business travel… But read on, the year of travel is not over!

Architecture and Wine:  Tuscany or Bordeaux, you say?  No, Virginia in October!

I finally succumbed to friends’ suggestion that I explore Virginia wine country with them.  I had been wanting to do this for a long time but other travel got in the way.  I took advantage of being in the DC area for work to go ahead and spend a weekend with them in wine country.  And got out RIGHT BEFORE Sandy passed by!  As you can read in my writings about this central part of Virginia, Monticello, Charlottesville and the countryside are filled with early colonial history and architecture as well as delicious wines.  And there are close to 200 other wineries in the state to be found and explored!  I was glad to have this opportunity to see more of my own country and other places will be in my sights in 2013 (like Michigan and Wisconsin thanks to friends from Chicago who write about these places!).

Cemetery where Thomas Jefferson is buried in Monticello on a fall day

Cemetery where Thomas Jefferson is buried in Monticello on a fall day

OK, now I rest ‘xcept for Thanksgiving in November

So, my fun travels wrap up for the year save for visiting family again in Tampa where I discover yet another new place for good Cuban food!  Someone STOP the madness! 🙂

I reflect back on the year and I am amazed at how much I have been able to see of places I have always wanted to see.  And this is setting aside the twenty-something weeks of work travel to DC!   The bucket list shrinks and yet I add new places I learn about.  I consider THAT my most important key performance indicator – a never-ending travel bucket list!

Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and the best in 2013 for you and yours!

An Austin Tweetup

I never thought I’d be part of something called a “tweetup” but last Friday I found myself traveling to Austin, TX to take part in one… How did I get there?  Well, I often participate in Twitter on travel chats and through that eventually connected with three 3 people that I enjoyed “chatting” with via Twitter.  The idea came up that maybe we should meet up at some point.  Since the 3 of them had Texas connections and 2 of them lived there, we decided to plan a weekend in Austin, TX.  Since I have good friends there, I figured I could see my new friends and my old friends in one weekend.

Getting There

Getting there was challenging as I wanted to stick to my main airline and there are no direct flights.  Also, as I had been traveling a lot recently, I wanted to make sure I could make a stop at home before continuing to travel after the trip to Austin.  No worries, a little fingerwork yielded a good itinerary at a reasonable price even if with a very tight connection in Memphis on my way to Austin (54mins).  The connection was perfectly fine but then the flight to Austin got delayed 1.5 hrs which pretty much killed joining folks that night.

One Sick Puppy

Unfortunately, I was starting to get sick when I flew to Austin and that got worse over the weekend.  I missed the evening tweetup events and that was a real bummer.  But Saturday I did get to be with these new friends, now not just “online friends” and we got to explore a little bit of Austin.

Austin in One Day

The day started with breakfast at one of the food truck parking lots on 1st St.  A taco place and a doughnut one were the choices on the one we settled on – and I was keen on getting a big ole loaded donut!  The donut took a good bit to be prepared but it was loaded with fried bananas, cream and the donut itself.  MAJOR sugar overload!

We decided to walk around that part of town and then proceeded to South Congress to walk around the shops.  People were out and about that day!  It felt like maybe this was the first spring day after a long winter but this was mid-January.  Eventually we made it to Allen Boots.  I wsan’t looking for a pair of boots but did see a belt I really liked and since most of my belts are run-of-the-mill boring, I went for it.  What a great way to add Texas to my “wardrobe” without it having to be a t-shirt!

We decided it was a good enough time to head out to Driftwood, TX to eat some BBQ at Salt Lick (www.saltlickbbq.com).  (After returning home from the trip, I saw the place featured in a Top Chef Texas episode.)  The place is massive and even has a winery.  While we waited 45 mins for our table, we sampled wines which were pretty good.  I especially liked their Brut.  The place is chop-chop, meaning, all business.  They serve you very fast and they don’t seem to want people lingering at the table (based on a posted sign).  But they were very friendly so no complaints here.  Based on the amount of people wanting to eat there, I am glad people didn’t linger before WE were seated!  The foot was great – I had the brisket and sausage and I can say, hands down, the sausage were far better.  They had a slight sweet taste that I enjoyed.

After Salt Lick (and a group picture in the parking lot), we drove back into town to walk around the Capitol grounds and take various pictures.  At that point, I started feeling the cold getting worse so I was not able to linger much and continue on for drinks and dinner which means I missed out on more fun with the group and on checking out the Four Seasons where 2 of them were staying.  I got some meds at the hotel store and basically slept through the evening, night and a good bit of the morning before my local friends picked me up around 11.

Tweetup: Thumbs Up or Down?

Not sure how other “tweetups” go but this group was a phenomenal group of folks!  The folks were in real life as I had thought they were from our Twitter chats.  I hope their blogs about the tweetup do the weekend better justice (especially since they can talk about the happy hours and dinners that I missed) and I can’t wait to read them!

I am very glad I went for it and I look forward to another one of these with these folks and perhaps other Twitter friends we have met over the last year through our travel chats.

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