Our Trip to South South America

Summer is officially here, so where better to celebrate than South America, where it happens to be winter! Of course, escaping the heat wasn’t our main reason to take off to Argentina this month, but I won’t lie, we were very happy to be donning our coats in July. Such a surreal experience!

In reality, we had many reasons to head to the opposite side of the Americas. For one, when we booked this trip, Canada was still an unknown, and Buenos Aires was at the top of our list for places to go after Guadalajara. Therefore, a large part of this trip was a scouting mission. Would we like southern South America? Would we prefer Buenos Aires or the nearby Montevideo, Uruguay? Could we picture ourselves moving there? Lots of questions to be answered even if the potential move has been pushed a bit further down the line. So, once again, we took to the road (or sky in this case) for some more “research”, and here’s what we discovered:

Seasonal Switch

First off, packing coats, scarves, and gloves for a July vacation was really strange. Of course, we knew the southern hemisphere is always in the opposite season as the northern hemisphere, but experiencing that drastic switch overnight in the dead of summer/winter was still disorienting. As was the fact that the weather got colder as we went further south. I didn’t realize how ingrained “north = colder” was in my brain! We also found it really entertaining to be all bundled up on the 4th of July – I can only imagine how strange Christmas in Argentina would be for me!

Happy 4th of July!

Another surprising, geography-related experience was just how far south Buenos Aires is! Our flight from Mexico City was 9 hours. We could have crossed an ocean in that amount of time! However, I think the long flight is worth it to have four distinct seasons. It was lovely to have brown leaves crunching beneath our feet again. Slightly less lovely was the fact that Buenos Aires is an hour ahead of Eastern Time. In Mexico, we’re an hour behind, and apparently, we’ve gotten really used to our work days ending at 4pm.

Map courtesy of Aeromexico 🙂

Amazing Food

Fugazzetta

Next up on our list of discoveries was actually more of a confirmation. Near our apartment in Guadalajara, we have several Argentine restaurants, and they’re easily some of our favorites in the city. We were beyond excited to try some of our favorite dishes in their country of origin. Thankfully, Argentina did not disappoint! Of course, the steak and wine were incredible (and SO inexpensive!), but the provoleta, the empanadas, the huge number of sandwiches, the dulce de leche – omg. I was extremely impressed with all the international options we had as well. Italian, German, Korean, Asian-style pay-by-weight places, we were definitely able to branch out even in just 2 weeks.

I was also blown away by the café culture of Argentina. I knew that people in South America have an affinity for drinking mate (a tea-like drink) and, of course, as part of Latin America, coffee is popular as well, but what I didn’t expect was just how abundant and accommodating the cafés would be. Literally every block of downtown BA had at least one café, most of which had several floors offering comfortable places to sit, eat, drink, and chat to your heart’s content. And whether at a café or a restaurant, you absolutely must ask for the check because they’ll never hurry you out.    

So Much Nature

While the local food is always a priority for us when we travel, the memories that stick with us longer are often our forays into the surrounding nature, which is something that South America has in spades. We knew we wanted to take a few trips outside Buenos Aires while we were there, but deciding on where to go was so tricky! An overnight train to the Andes out west? A trek through the jungle to see the infamous Iguazu Falls? Or fully embrace winter with a flight down to Cape Horn? Of course, we went with the coldest option!

Thanks to Argentina’s budget airline, Flybondi (which is thankfully still operating post 2020), we were able to find cheap tickets down to Ushuaia. Ushuaia sits in the far south of Patagonia and is known as “the southernmost city in the world”. Here we were able to play in the snow, chill our craft beers on the window sill, and tour the icy Beagle Channel. As a geography nerd, the sheer fact that I was at the southern tip of the Americas, only about 1000km from Antarctica was enough for my bucket list, but the incredible mountains and pink morning skies just made it that much more beautiful.

Fantastic Cities

As amazing as it was to be surrounded by such diverse nature, we definitely spent the majority of our time in the two major capital cities: Buenos Aires and Montevideo. Turns out we could have used even more time because Buenos Aires is huge! That’s really the immediate impression I got from the city. It was a 45-minute ride from the airport to Retiro (a downtown neighborhood), and aside from the distance, the number of massive buildings, many of which were apartments, definitely stood out. Walking downtown, I was also amazed by how tall so many of the building are. Very old, very European-style architecture, but much taller than I seem to remember in Poland (or than what we find in Guadalajara). Luckily everything seemed to be bigger in Buenos Aires because there were also gigantic plazas and parks, wide sidewalks, and many-laned throughfares. It seemed like the kind of place you could live for years and still be discovering new points of interest.

Montevideo, on the other hand, was much smaller. Both in terms of the city’s size and the architecture. Although just a few hours away, across the Rio de la Plata, Montevideo is the capital of Uruguay and has an entirely different vibe. Of course, we were super interested in noting any and all differences (in the name of research) and couldn’t help comparing as we went along. To me, Montevideo felt a little like the quirky younger sibling of Buenos Aires. It was much more colorful with lots of street art and eclectic architecture throughout the old and new sections of the city. It also felt much more coastal with its huge rambla (promenade) and beaches. While a lot of the culinary traditions are similar between the two countries, Uruguay has a few of its own stand-outs as well, like the Chivito sandwich, which is now in Tucker’s top 5 sandwiches of all time.

I give you the Chivito

Spanish Differences

Another interesting experience on this trip (as well as on our trip last year to Ecuador) was the Spanish we were hearing and eventually using. The Spanish I’m learning is Mexican, and this is never more obvious than when we’re traveling in another Spanish-speaking country. Words like “alquilar” (to rent), “maní” (peanut), and “palta” (avocado) gave me pause because we regularly (read: only) use “rentar”, “cacajuate”, and “aguacate”. Just like learning to use “chulla vida” in Ecuador, it was really interesting to see which indigenous words Argentina and Uruguay have adopted and how these (and other) influences still serve to differentiate Spanish varieties around the globe.

However, it wasn’t just the vocabulary that caught our attention on this trip to South America. The first real conversation we had in Argentina was with the security guard in the building where we were staying. He gave us our keys and made sure we knew what to expect with entering, exiting, etc. Luckily, having a few Argentine teachers in the past helped prepare me for hearing things like “sha” and “shaves” instead of “ya” and “llaves”, but it was still much harder than I expected. The accent is SO different from what I’ve grown accustomed to, but it was surprisingly easy to pick up and start using ourselves. After just a few days we were saying “sho” (yo) and “para shevar” (para llevar) like everyone around us!  

So, What’s the Verdict?

Well, we loved it all! We could definitely see ourselves moving to either Buenos Aires or Montevideo in the future, and I would absolutely love to have a few years down there (at least!) to more thoroughly explore South America. Even though we might be going north before we make it back down south, I’m beyond thankful for the opportunity we had to get even a glimpse of such an amazing part of the world! Until next time! ¡Chau!

Our Travels (from 2015-2016)

There is no question that Tucker and I have been extremely fortunate this year. It honestly feels like a dream. I’ve talked a lot about Fulbright, the University of Łódź, and all the amazing experiences I’ve had with such wonderful people and organizations supporting me, but I’ve not really discussed the places we’ve been able to go. I have always loved exploring new places, comparing them to what I’ve read or heard from others, and my time in Europe has allowed me to do that and then some. Traveling is an incredible luxury, and unfortunately, it’s not something everyone can do. I hope in the future international travel becomes more accessible because I have learned and developed a great deal through it, and want more people to be able to do the same (if they want to). Anyway, since several friends and family members have expressed interest in our travels, I’ve decided to share some of our experiences this past year: the destinations, of course, but also some lessons and laughs we had along the way.

Łódź, Poland:

One of our first mishaps in Poland (of which there have been many) occurred on our second day in Łódź. We were on our way to meet my supervisor at the university for the first time, but had a slight issue on one of the trams. We really thought we were ready; armed with złoty (Polish currency) and a chipped credit card; however, Poland is both too outdated and too modern for either of those means of payment! On the tram we could only use coins or a tap-and-pay card to buy tickets, neither of which we had. Oops! Normally this wouldn’t be a much of a problem. We would just get off, buy some tickets at a kiosk, and get back on, but (of course) with our luck, the secret transportation police (who seem to follow me) were on the tram watching us as we failed. Once they were sure we had run out of ideas, they yanked us off and gave us a 140 złoty fine ($35). Needless to say, we were late to the meeting…

Warszawa, Poland

Łęczyca, Poland

Kraków, Poland

Gdańsk and Sopot, Poland

Poznań, Poland:

In December we had some time off thanks to the holidays, so one weekend, we impulsively decided to visit Poznań, a city about 3 hours from Łódź. We didn’t know much about Poznań, so on the way there we googled the main attractions and read several suggestions to see the goats. Waking up the next morning in Poznań, it was snowing (yay!), but I was sick (boo!). Runny nose, streaming eyes, chills – it was awful, but I was not going to let that stop me. We bundled up, braved the cold, and walked and ate our way around Poznań. Eventually, it was time to see the goats. We were super excited as we crowded around the Town Hall in the main square with about 50 other goat-seekers. As the clock struck noon, the tiny, mechanical goats slowly came out of their little doors at the top of the tower. They turned towards each other, butted heads a few times (among oohs and ahhs, of course), and then retreated to their home. What did we just witness? Why goats? Is that all they do? So many questions left unanswered.

Łask, Poland

Bergen, Voss, Gudvangen, Flåm, and Myrdal, Norway

Wrocław, Poland

Lisbon and Porto, Portugal – Madrid, Spain – Rome, Italy – Vatican City:

Traveling to new countries can be a tad confusing at times. There can be different ways of doing things or different laws that must be upheld – many of which are unknown to tourists. We experienced a bit of this when we got to Rome. We arrived fairly late, so there was no one to let us into our room. Luckily they left a post-it note on the door with a number to call (odd). We called, and eventually a guy showed up and took us down the street to a different apartment building (also odd). He showed us the room, gave us the key, and then asked for money because Italy imposes a “special tax” on renting rooms. What?! We had already paid for the room, and I wasn’t even sure we were in the right place with the right person anymore – should we really be giving him more money? Well, we did (with no receipt or proof of any kind). But luckily he wasn’t a scammer; Italy really does impose a tourist tax for each night you stay in the country, and it’s generally paid after you arrive. Weird.

Szczecin, Gryfino, Płoty, and Resko, Poland

Wieliczka and Zakopane, Poland:

You know what Atlanta doesn’t have much of? Snow. Obviously, Tucker and I had a few things to learn about Polish winters, but on our trip to Zakopane, a mountain town in the Polish Tatras, we proved to be slow learners. Our goal while in Zakopane was to hike to Lake Morskie Oko. We had a few difficulties getting to the starting point of the hike due to the time of year, and once we were there, I realized I had made a huge mistake. I thought someone had told me it was a two kilometer hike, but it seems they might have said it was a two hour hike. Oops. We also failed to take into account the fact that elevation changes the weather a great deal, so we left to hike 18 kilometers (11 miles) uphill, in the snow…in gym shoes. I’m pretty sure we almost lost toes. After about 20 minutes our shoes were soaked and soon we couldn’t feel our feet at all. That made walking up the steep mountain extremely difficult, not to mention all the slippery snow and ice. But at least now we will forever understand the importance of boots!

Český ráj – (near) Turnov, Czech Republic

Brussels and Ghent, Belgium

Prague and Turnov, Czech Republic

Sieradz and Burzenin, Poland

Kalisz, Poland

Częstochowa, Miedźno, Katowice, and Oświęcim, Poland

Minsk and Mir, Belarus:

One of the coolest experiences we had during our travels was riding an overnight train from Warsaw to Minsk. It was such a great trip for so many reasons, including, but not limited to: our amazing travel companions and the breakfasts we shared, the traditional Belarusian dinner with many, many toasts, and the experience of being lifted into the air as they changed the train wheels at the border. However, by far, my favorite part occurred on the way home. We took another overnight train (this one was a bit older), and upon entering our compartment, it seemed we were missing a bed. We searched around the tiny room looking for the elusive bed until we spotted what looked like a door. Thinking this must be the last fold-out bed, we yanked it open and unexpectedly found ourselves looking at the gentleman in the next compartment, who rather promptly and enthusiastically said “Hello!”. No one could stop laughing!

Mir Castle, Mir, Belarus

Prusinowice, Poland

Reykjavik, Selfoss, Hella, and Vik, Iceland – Belfast, Northern Ireland (UK) – Galway, Cork, Blarney, and Dublin, Ireland

Gdynia, Hel, Lębork, Łeba, and Malbork, Poland

Tallin, Estonia – Riga, Latvia – Vilnius, Lithuania:

I like to be early: early for class, early for appointments, early for buses/trains/planes, etc. However, sometimes it’s just not possible. Particularly when you accidentally add an 8 hour “snooze” to your alarm for the morning (why is that even an option?!). Before our trip to the Baltic States, we were graciously invited to an Independence Day party at the US ambassador to Poland’s house. We didn’t get home from the party until fairly late, and had to catch a bus the next morning at 4:50am. Before going to sleep, I responsibly set my alarm to make sure we woke up with enough time to shower, pack our things, and get to the bus station. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. At 4:34am Tucker woke up to get a drink of water, and realized (much more calmly than I would have) that we were late. Beyond late. He woke me up, and we legitimately threw our stuff in our bags and ran out of the hotel and all the way to the station. Only 16 minutes from waking up to the bus pulling away! We were sweaty, unshowered, and shaking (okay that was just me), but somehow we made it. Now we set alarms on both phones.

Stockholm, Sweden – Skopje, Macedonia – Bratislava, Slovakia – Budapest, Hungary – Vienna, Austria

Berlin and Potsdam, Germany

Rzeszów, Poland – Lviv and Kiev, Ukraine

So, this is where we’ve been this year: 21 countries, 66 cities, collecting endless memories!

I have truly tried to take advantage of every opportunity I’ve been given this year, and traveling in and around Poland was a big part of that. Throughout this process, I know my posts and pictures have been endless, but I hope they have never seemed discouraging or boastful. I wanted to document everything we did this year, so one day Tucker and I can look back and remember all the details of these stories and places, which will surely escape us as time passes. The places we’ve been and the people we’ve met during our travels this year have definitely changed how we view the world, and that is exactly why I love to travel. Here’s hoping this is only the beginning! 🙂

Reminisce With Me

This week my Fulbright grant came to an end, and all the “lasts” are starting to hit me. I taught my last class at the University of Łódź, we had our last conversation club meeting at the American Corner, and this past Friday was the last Fulbright event. With these milestones behind me, I’m find myself treating every experience as the last – the last time we eat at this restaurant, the last time we buy znaczki, the last time we see so-and-so, etc. It’s always difficult to say goodbye, but for so many reasons this experience has been much harder to let go of. Tucker and I have had an incredible time this year. We’ve seen and done more than I could ever have imagined, and the experiences we’ve had and the people we’ve met have truly changed our lives forever. Let’s reminisce!

We arrived in Poland last September jet-lagged and sleep-deprived, but it didn’t keep our jaws from hitting the floor when we were taken to Sarnia 2, m.23, which has truly become our home. The city and the apartment we live in are absolutely beautiful. This has been our view for the past year, and I will sorely miss it!

Next we met the other Fulbrighters in Warsaw, and perhaps finally realized that this was real. We got acquainted rather quickly, getting lost in the underground passages of Centrum and having shots of hazelnut vodka while learning people’s names. Now I feel confident that there’s no amount of vodka that would allow me to forget their names! Hopefully. 🙂

Fulbright Polska 2015-2016

Eventually, we returned to Łódź and got down to business: meeting my new colleagues, beginning classes at the university, studying Polish fervently, etc. Throughout the year we attended many conversation clubs and other events at the American Corner, we visited primary and secondary schools across the country, and even gave conference presentations in Minsk.

School visit in Burzenin

Through each of these experiences I’ve been able to develop as a teacher, a presenter, a researcher, and as a person. There is always so much to discuss and even more to learn! Tucker and I participated in everything possible, and we have never been disappointed. We looked into our futures on Andrzejki Day, we marched in support of women’s rights on Piotrkówska, we shouted “POLSKA! BIAŁO-CZERWONI” at a hockey match, and we even attended a party at the US ambassador to Poland’s house.

In addition to all of these amazing events, we were also lucky enough to spend our free time traveling around Poland. We hiked the Tatras near Zakopane, visited castles in Kraków, Malbork, and Łęczyca, walked along the Baltic sea in Łeba, saw the legendary goats of Pozńan, took a ferry to Hel and back, and so much more! Poland has incredibly beautiful and diverse geography – there is so much to see, and we’ve only just scratched the surface.

Słowiński National Park

And while we were busy completely immersing ourselves in all things Polish, we also had the privilege of making some of the most incredible friends! We really cannot thank everyone enough for welcoming us into your homes, your lives, and your cultures. We have learned so much from you all! I have no doubt we’ll be friends for life, and Tucker and I can’t wait to host you in whatever country we end up in next!

So, what is next? Fulbright is over, but we still have a month left in Poland. And that can mean only one thing – travel! We have three more trips planned, plus as many events as we could squeeze into our last few weeks in Łódź. After that, who knows? Many people have been asking about our plans for the future, but for now, we’re happy to be mulling over our options. We do know that we’ll be back in Atlanta for at least August and September, but after that, it could be anywhere!