lakes

Hangzhou is one of these places that truly surprise you about China. Somehow, it manages to combine business and factories with inspiring landscapes without one really noticing a drastic change of scenery. As soon as we arrived at the train station, we realized that Hangzhou wasn’t the provincial town we had envisioned – it was a capital city with over 6 million habitants (many of them hanging around the extremely busy station, for whatever reason!).

For a second, we debated whether we might have actually gotten off the wrong stop or, even worse, taken a completely wrong train.

But we didn’t.

Completely unprepared (without a map, a chinese dictionary or any kind of reference) we hopped on a cab and entertained the cab driver with our 10 different ways to explain “West Lake”. One of the girls I learned the cardinal points in chinese and kept on repeating “Xi ! Xi!” while the rest of us played roles of drowning people, swimmers and sailors. I honestly understand why chinese cab drivers were often pissed off – us tourists are such a waste of time!

I’m not sure whether it was thanks to our great mimics or just because he thought that by driving any direction we would finally shut up, but somehow we landed kind of where we wanted – The West Lake.

West Lake, Hangzhou (China)

The West Lake was just as I had imagined a chinese lake surrounded by mountains and gardens – romantic and mysterious. Below are some of my favorite in Hangzhou.

West Lake, Hangzhou (China)

West Lake, Hangzhou (China)

West Lake, Hangzhou (China)

West Lake, Hangzhou (China)

West Lake, Hangzhou (China)

West Lake, Hangzhou (China)

West Lake, Hangzhou (China)

West Lake, Hangzhou (China)

West Lake, Hangzhou (China)

West Lake, Hangzhou (China)

West Lake, Hangzhou (China)

Have you been to Hangzhou? Do you know any other place like this?

Glaciers in Argentina

The Patagonian ice fields extend for about 16,800 km2, covering part of Chile and part of Argentina’s geography. Even though that more than 80% falls into Chile (such as Glacier Grey, in Torres del Paine and Glaciar Aguila, in Agostini Sound), Argentina offers easy access to some of the most impressive glaciers in the continent (among them, the upmost famous Perito Moreno!).

While in Calafate, we decided to take a boat trip through Los Glaciares National Park – a World Heritage site since 1981. The trip took us along a small part of Lago Argentino, the largest lake in the country – coming so close, you could almost touch the ice!

Close Up in Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina

Close Up in Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina

Close Up in Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina

Among all the white icy islands we came across with throughout the tour, there were also a few intense blue bodies of ice. It appears blue because this ice is very compact and so absorbs all colors of the visible light spectrum, except blue – which is transmitted instead. The deeper under the surface of the visible glacier, the more compact the ice becomes and therewith, the bluer it reflects when a piece of it cracks and ends up floating in the water.

Close Up in Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina

Have you ever come up close to a glacier?

There have been a few times in life when I looked around myself, admired how far I had gotten and then told myself:

Holy sh*t, you actually made it!
(yes, I occasionally talk to myself – specially when I’ve accomplished something good or am about to do something that my other me knows I will regret in a few seconds).

Those times when I’ve felt so proud of myself that I shook my hands in glory and accomplishment have been usually limited to academic stuff: you know, the day I picked up a diploma in my masters’ graduation or the day I arrived a my 14th floor hotel room in Hong Kong and admired the beginning of my career. Or the day my school maths teacher, who peeked into each of our calculators and pencil cases during an exam didn’t notice my super super secret crib. But occasionally, I feel proud after completing a more physical challenge.

This, was one of them.

Overview of the 9km Trail to Mirador las Torres

We started off the day leaving our hotel at 7am to drive to the start of the trail at Hotel Las Torres. The hike is a 9km walk to the Mirador, most of the being (considerable) uphill. At the initial stage, the walk wasn’t steep; but for a good part of it, you walk exposed to the wind (which is usually quite strong around that corner). After walking about 300m uphill, you’ll stay at that level for a while, and will already start appreciating a broad view over the valley.

Torres del Paine, ChileLooking back

Looking into the Valley, Torres del Paine, ChileLooking forward

After reaching the campamento Chileno, you hike for another few hours – first drawing the curves of river Ascensio (a rather comfortable after-lunch walk), and later entering the woods. At this point, the trail starts to become steeper until reaching an open space from where the crazy moraine climb begins.

The Final Stage: Rocky Moraine

This final climb reaches 890m height in only 0.8km distance. However, you need to account for 45min/1 hour to reach the top. This is when you put your hiking shoes into a test – the path is a rocky ramp!

All the way up the moraine, you won’t see more than the peaks of the towers. It’s only once you reach the top that you discover the majestic landscape in front of you.

Torres del Paine, Chile

View From the Mirador: All three towers: Torre Sur, Torre Central and Torre Norte; the Torres glacier and a lake formed of glacial water.

Practical Information

Route: From Hotel Las Torres to Mirador Las Torres (Chile) – circular
Elevation gain uphill: 1.157m
Elevation gain downhill: 1.157m
Length: 19 km
Duration: 8 – 9 hrs trekking (12 hrs including breaks)
Difficulty: Challenging
Wikiloc: Mirador Las Torres, Chile

Shortly after waving goodbye to a colony of Magellanic penguins on Isla Magdalena, we arrived at our last stop: Punta Arenas. From there, a mere 5 and a half hours ride took us into one of the World’s most impressive landscapes: the Torres del Paine National Park.

Torres del Paine National Park is takes it name from three impressive granite towers (torres) that, together with the horns (cuernos), rise more than 3,000 meters above the Patagonian steppe. It’s beauty and uniqueness was officially recognized in 1975, when it was declared World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO.

What makes this place so special?

The Mountains

Mountains in Torres del Paine, Chile

Those of you who know me, know that I love mountainous landscapes., which is a bit unusual from someone who’s spent her teens in a bikini.

That Torres del Paine National Park is considered a paradise for hikers and climbers and overall mountaineers was no surprise – its many valleys and peaks form a fantastic playground for any adventurer seeking for unspoiled allure!

I took the above picture of one of the Cuernos del Paine while hiking in Valle Francés.

The Lakes

Lake in Torres del Paine, Chile

Although I had spent two years living next to a beautiful lake in Switzerland, I held my breath as I saw the shades of blue of the lakes in the park.

Shouldn’t this color belong in the Caribbean?

I took this picture was taken from Puente Weber, overlooking Rio Paine and the Paine Massif.

The Flora

Flowers in Torres del Paine, Chile

The best months to travel to Torres del Paine is between October and April – not only because of the milder temperatures and longer hours of sunlight, but to appreciate the diverse flora that colors the ground of the park.

I soon learned that looking down can be as rewarding as looking up!

The picture above is of a bed of lupins, one of the iconic wildflowers in the Andean region in Patagonia.

The Waterfalls

Waterfall in Torres del Paine, Chile

The Park has two waterfalls – Salto Grande (pictured above) and Cascada del Rio Paine, which exhibit very different attractions. Salto Grande caught my eye due to the tremendous power used to drain the water from Lake Nordenskjöld to Lake Pehoé. Cascada del Rio Paine, although less powerful, had a perfect setting – in front of the dramatic Torres.

Although one can get closer to Salto Grande by walking down a few steps, I am certain that the best view was from the top of the Mirador, from where I shot this photograph.

The Fauna

Eagle in Torres del Paine, Chile

Torres del Paine is the perfect place for those, like me, enjoy getting closer to the regional wildlife. During my time in the park, I walked with guanacos and ñandús (darwin’s rhea), spotted a family of cute grey foxes, flamingos, condors and this majestic eagle – just to name a few!

I spotted this eagle during our lunch break, close to Lago Azul.

The Glaciers

Glaciers in Torres del Paine, Chile

The region we now know as Patagonia is said to have been once covered under a thick volume of ice. Millions of years have passed and still we find hundreds of (smaller) moving bodies of ice. Glaciar Grey is probably the most famous of the park’s glaciers, attracting a considerable number of tourists each year that want to experience ice trekking or get a closer look to the walls of ice from one of cruises. The large pieces that fall off the glacier slowly drift towards the stone beach, creating what is commonly known as a Cementerio de Tempanos (ice floes cementery).

In the picture: Lake Grey with a big ice floe and in the Grey Glacier in the background.

Tierra del Fuego National Park, Argentina

The name Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire) derives from Ferdinand Magellan, who was the first European to visit the land in 1520. As he approached shore, he was amazed by the size of the fires created by the aborigines to cook and keep warm. I can hardly imagine how anyone could survive to these extreme weather conditions without modern inventions. This shows that the aborigines’ skins, exposed to wind, cold and ice, developed in a completely different way from ours.

As we walked along the shore of Lake Fagnano, admiring the profoundly beautiful and diverse scenery, I couldn’t stop but wonder what else lies behind these high mountains and inside the dark forests. However, from its over 630km2 of land, only a small part of it is open to public.

 

You might have heard about the French Riviera – the French coastline that extends from around St. Tropez to the italian border and has been long known to be a playground for the rich and the famous. Ports are flooded with the World’s most expensive yachts – some of them include a heliport on the top, some simply have a huge pool on the top. During my summer in Nice – that first attempt on learning a french a couple of years back – I enjoyed my afternoons sitting at a nearby cafe and guessing which yacht belonged to Elton John or how many wives that Sheikh had on board.

But the french are not the only sophisticated ones with exclusive clientele – Switzerland also has its own Riviera. The Swiss Riviera.

Vevey, Switzerland

Switzerland’s Riviera stretches along the northern shore of Lac Léman – being Vevey and Montreux (home of the infamous jazz festival) its two largest villages. My favorite place to go wine tasting in Europe, Lavaux, also belongs to this area.

The Swiss Riviera does not have the Europe’s biggest yachts nor P. Diddy strolling along its beaches. Its exclusivity, though always latent, is rather subtle.

Old Village, Vevey, Switzerland Lac Léman and Alps, Switzerland

Its clean cozy streets and breathtaking lake and mountain scenery convinced many celebrities to spend a great part of their life in the region. Hemingway, Charles Chaplin and Freddie Mercury and only some of the personalities that have walked its paths and gazed at its unique sunsets.

Sure, Vevey is not among Europe’s top party places, which I prefer so – I don’t want to come across Paris Hilton and a bunch of paparazzi following her from one boutique to another. Life in the Swiss Riviera is relaxed – no rush and no hurry. No paparazzi.

It’s a simple life made luxurious – its vineyards overlooking the lake and the Alps, unnoticed boutiques with offering both quality and fashion as well as the finest collection of top quality restaurants hidden in tiny neighbor villages.

Vevey, Switzerland

There’s no need to say more – this is where I want to live (when I’m rich and famous), too.

Where would you live if you were one of the rich and famous?

Filets de Perche

Filets de Perche: A speciality in the area of Lac Léman

On my first trip to Geneva, back in 2006, a friend’s family took us unexperienced spaniards to a small restaurant near the lake. Its speciality was local fish. We ordered filet the perche – an indigenous specie in Lac Léman served in small fillets that traditionally is served with sauce tartare and french fries. Going out for filets de perche is a good excuse to sit on a terrace next to the lake on a sunny afternoon and its a must try when in any of the villages surrounding Lac Léman.

During the last year and a half, filet de perche have been many of my lunches and dinners in Switzerland. However, they were not always as good as I expected.

I soon found out that Lac Léman does (by far) not have enough perches to satisfy its demand – the local catch only covers 6% of swiss consumption and so the remaining 94% are frozen filets coming all the way from Estonia.

How can one escape from the frozen filets offered in many restaurants?

The high season for filets is between July and October, that is, its likely that a restaurant announcing filets de perche in January will be importing them from Eastern Europe. Obviously, there are some exceptions – restaurants specialized in these filets will have a deal with local fishermen who will exclusively deliver to them all-year-round. My personal favorite is Café de la Poste, in a fairy tale lake village called Lutry (where I took the picture above).

My recommendation is to always search for filets de perches frais du Lac Léman to get the real taste. Due to the low local supply, restaurants that actually do serve the fresh catch will make sure that’s clear for their customers

It’s not all about filets de perche

There are more than 50 fish species in Lac Léman – why obsess with one kind when you can eat your way through the lake? I’m putting this concept into practice since saturday – having started with these filets de féra with pommes frites and Lavaux wine at Chateau d’Ouchy.

filets de féra Pommes frites Glass of White Wine (Lavaux)

We all have preconceptions about a country (even if we don’t admit to have them). When I accepted the job in Switzerland, I pictured the Alps, fondues, chocolate – and lots of bankers. Sure, Switzerland does have all this – but it has so much more that is less known to the World.

The Lakes

View from Vevey, Switzerland

Switzerland encompasses a huge diversity of landscapes on only little more than 41,200 km2, ranging from 195 m to 4,634m above sea level. No wonder that, besides for having some of the greatest mountain scenery Worldwide it also houses a surprising amount of lakes. There are more than 1,500 lakes spread across the country, although only 16 of them are larger than 10 km2 (being Lac Léman the largest one).

Wherever you are, you will surely not be far from a lake. During summer, Switzerland’s lakes are painted with sailing boats that go out to enjoy the late afternoon and watch the sunset on the quiet water. When I first moved here, I wondered why someone would own a boat in Switzerland when you couldn’t get anywhere with it. The truth is – the point is not to go somewhere, but to enhance the quality of life by allowing beautiful day trips with family and friends.

The Vineyards

Lavaux, Switzerland

Lying in the shadow of its neighbors, France and Italy, swiss wine is almost inexistent outside of the country. Although annual production can reach 150 million bottles, only about 2/100 are exported. Putting this into perspective: with a population of 7 million people, each person would consume 21 bottles of swiss wine per year. This turns Switzerland one of the top wine consuming countries Worldwide!

The country houses around 20,000 winegrowers, many of which have small productions that serve personal use. It’s not rare to meet people who own a little vineyard in the back of their house, specially in Canton Vaud. Switzerland may have several wine growing areas, but my favorite one is Lavaux, which aside from producing high quality white wine offers one of the greatest views over Lac Leman.

The Cheese

Cheese (London Borough Market)

Cheese might be nothing new about Switzerland – But if you google swiss cheese, you will get more than 3 million images, out of which most of them depict the cheese with the holes in it. Yes, that’s a swiss cheese. It’s called Emmentaler. But this is only one of the more than 450 varieties of cheese the country has to offer. Other swiss cheese you may have come across in supermarkets worldwide are Raclette cheese, Gruyère and Appenzeller. Most of the cheese is made out of cow milk, but you can also find it made of goat milk or sheep milk. Every region has its own local cheese. Swiss cheese range all prices imaginable and can be filled or topped with fine herbs, mushroom mousse, pepper, or truffles (among many others). In fact, one of my favorites from the Canton Vaud is Tomme Fleurette, which is made out of raw milk (a real speciality!).

What qualities does your home country have that aren’t well-known?