Disneyland Paris isn’t that amazing

The end of our visit to France involved a two and a half day visit to Disneyland Paris. After a lot of rearranging of plans due to an unexpected hospitalization, we managed to keep our plans for visiting Disneyland only by renting a car and driving back to Paris from the Atlantic coast, just shy of 500 km! We ended up rending from a car from Avis after the local Europcar cancelled our reservation due to not having any vehicles available for a one-way trip. We ended up paying a little more with Avis, but I think the woman working at the pickup site took some pity on us and gave us a little upgrade on the vehicle.

Our carriage for the trek across France, a Renault Scenic.

The journey across France was mostly uneventful. I had to reacquaint myself with driving a manual transmission as it has probably been 10-15 years since I had driven one. However, after 3-4 times stalling it in the middle of the street, I was back in business! Luckily the Renault had plenty of room for our luggage so we didn’t have to worry too much about transporting our stuff and spending so much time in a vehicle with our bags on our laps.

Upon arrival at Disneyland Paris, were checked in to our room at the Sequoia Lodge. This resort was clearly very dated and badly in need of a remodel. The door to our room took a couple of attempts each time we tried to close it. One thing that the resort had going for it was that each of us received a free hot drink for each day of our stay. I’ll seldom turn down free coffee.

The castle at Disneyland Paris.

The parks at Disneyland Paris are unsurprisingly quite similar to Disneyland in Anaheim or portions of Disney World, albeit much smaller. Many of the rides are the same, though in a few cases, the DLP verions were slightly improved, particularly noted for Pirates of the Caribbean and maybe Space Mountain. The relatively small number of feature attractions meant that the wait times were a bit high, even though we were visiting during a time of low crowds.

One thing that we didn’t appreciate was that many of the quick service restaurants at DLP were only open from noon to 5pm. This made it a little challenging to find a good dinnertime option if we weren’t looking to spend a ton of money at one of the table-service offerings. There was also some issue with finding good vegetarian options, a problem we saw across France. Even ignoring this issue, the options available inside the parks were a little disappointing as the food wasn’t terribly good and was quite high priced. We found better options just outside the parks in the Disney Village area.

Elsa giving her best lip sync performance to the future Frozen II classics.

Unfortunately, we were unable to make it to the Frozen II show as the wait times were quite long, as would be expected since the movie is relatively recent. In Disneyland Park, they have a regular parade type thing involving the Frozen characters that was OK, though relatively short. They could probably improve the show by adding some other characters or themes.

Overall, I don’t know that we would return to DLP. Though if we ever decided to, we’d like try for a season with a little more favorable weather as we got to enjoy blustery wind and rain each day of our visit. That said, even in nice weather, I just don’t think there is anything that would draw us back here when there are better options in Florida and the weather is much more likely to be favorable no matter the time of year.

Vegetarian food in France can be hard to find

While coming across some vegetarian offerings in the grocery stores of the larger French cities isn’t too difficult, finding options elsewhere has been a surprising challenge. Countless times I’ve asked restaurant employees and boulangerie staff if any of their food items, besides baked goods, are vegetarian, only to be answered, “non!”

The haul from one of our grocery trips. We used the bikes at our AirBnB and the bike trailer regularly. Our two children are in there somewhere.

We managed to get by fairly well by cooking most of our meals at the AirBnB and doing a lot of grocery shopping instead of eating out. This was fortunate as the town we stayed in was a small tourist town and we were there in the off season so many of the restaurants were not open at all.

However, towards the end of our time in France, we ended up driving about 500 km in a rental car across the country back to Paris (the full story involves a hospitalization and a lot of rearranged plans) and saw much of the same thing at the places we stopped along the way. Meat seems to be a staple of the French diet (outside of the larger cities), even more so than it is for the small Wisconsin town that we call home. I guess progress can be slow no matter where you are!

We jumped across the pond

After completing our ~5 months in Perú, we made a stop at home to have two weeks of holiday time with our families. Now we’ve jumped to the other side of the Atlantic for a few months in Europe/Scandinavia. Our first stop on this leg is a month long stay in France.

Our kids have thoroughly enjoyed the trips to the ocean, we are only a 15 minute walk away! The town we are currently staying in is called Jard-sur-Mer. It is a small vacation town on the Atlantic coast, which seems popular with retirees and Brits. Though there are not too many of either of those here right now. We are here in the off-season so the place is mostly closed up and many of the restaurants and shops are shut down for the time being. This is perfectly fine with us because we came here for some quiet time and didn’t plan to go out to eat too often. We’ve instead thoroughly enjoyed shopping at the local grocery store and preparing all of our meals at home. We’ve also had a great time visiting the bakeries and ogling their goods.

My daughter picking out what she wants at the bakery.

Getting around in the Sacred Valley

One of our favorite things about living in the Sacred Valley was that we could get around fairly easily without having a car. This was greatly facilitated by being in Urubamba, which is a little larger than some of the neighboring towns, but generally speaking, things wouldn’t change too much elsewhere in the Valley.

Our primary means of transportation day-to-day was the mototaxi. These are small, three-wheeled vehicles with low-powered motors. Commonly they are called tuk tuks or rickshaws in many other parts of the world, but we heard them called mototaxis or just motos in Perú. You can comfortably fit two people in the back, three adults or two adults and two kids starts to get a little tight. However, we would often see locals stuff five or six adults in the back with some sitting on laps.

Within town, two soles (about $0.60) will get you just about anywhere. Longer distances or more passengers will push the price up, short distances or taking the moto from a rural location to a busy stop like the bus stop or the market will get you a lower price. We found that it was best not to ask the price in advance as you would usually get quoted something on the higher end. Of course, as with most everything else, the price is negotiable. We often felt bad for negotiating over a sol or half a sol but, as our local friends told us, if we don’t negotiate for a fair price as tourists, that pushes the moto prices up for the locals themselves.

Overall the motos aren’t the fastest way to get anywhere, but they are definitely inexpensive and very ubiquitous. Catching one is usually a simple matter of standing at the curb with your hand raised and yelling “moto!” at any that pass.

A moto taxi in Urubamba.

For longer distances, such as between towns, the motos don’t make a lot of sense and likely the driver won’t want to take you that far. In these cases, a combi or small van/bus is a better option. These combis (sometimes called colectivos, though more commonly we heard shared taxis being referred to as colectivos) are privately owned and operated, but seem to operate as part of a collective that coordinates the routes and such. Even though they are privately operated, we found them to be readily available and quite efficient. Waiting at one of the stops, you’d typically see a van come every 5-10 minutes. They are usually priced based on distance and are fairly inexpensive. An hour long trip between towns may cost two to three soles per person, with kids often being free. The downside to combis are that they make frequent stops, some stops are at designated locations, but in more rural areas, people just flag them down on the side of the road. There were some routes which didn’t include as many stops and were more direct, but we never really figured out how to tell the difference if you didn’t know the particular route. Generally a quick question to the driver will tell you if they stop as your desired destination or not. While you are riding, you can indicate your stop by shouting “bajo!” and getting ready to jump out. Try not to forget to hand the driver your payment, as close to your actual fare as possible so they don’t have to waste a lot of time making change.

Another downside to the combis is that they will pick up about as many people as can be squeezed inside as long as the door can still be slammed shut. They will also transport your goods for an extra fee, either inside or strapped to the roof.

A combi in Urubamba. The window sign states what route it follows.
The inside of a combi. They can become cramped as they don’t really have limits for how many people they will pick up.

For faster rides or longer distances, there are buses or taxis. The buses are still fairly cheap, often a several hour trip will be in the range of 20 soles per person. They don’t move the fastest, but will have fewer stops. You can find them by visiting the dedicated bus station as they aren’t as likely to pick you up along the side of the road.

Taxis offer a more private option but are of course more expensive. A one-way trip between Urubamba and Cusco (takes about 1.5 hours) will set you back 70-100 soles. Though if you go down to the grifo (gas station) in Urubamba, you can often catch a taxi that is making their way back from dropping people off in Ollantaytambo and are looking to collect some fares on their way to Cusco. In these cases you can share a taxi to Cusco for 5-8 soles. The drivers will cruise by slowly yelling, “Cusco, Cusco, Cusco” out the window.

Honoring Pachamama

The owners of our rental in the Sacred Valley brought in a shaman to make an offering to Pachamama for protection of the house and our family. We were touched by this and they invited us to witness. The ceremony involved the drinking and pouring of beer, chewing of coca leaves and the burning of an offering.

A package which served as an offering to Pachamama that was burned at the house.

Visiting the Sacred Valley sites

One wonderful thing about the Valle Sagrado is that it has numerous Incan and pre-Incan sites to visit, not just Machu Picchu!

We decided to use one of our weekends and purchase the Boleto Turistico – Partial Circuit 3. This ticket was 70 soles (kids free) and includes Moray, Chinchero, Ollantaytambo, and Pisac.

We ended up hiring the taxi driver, Jorge, despite the weird situation of him asking us for money a few weeks earlier. He claims he just panicked under the emergency of whatever he had going on. For 250 soles he would drive us around for the day to reach all of the sites (minus Pisac) plus the salt flats at Maras/Salineras.

We started in Chinchero. This site was probably the smallest of the three but was still pretty interesting. There is a central church surrounded by a terraced hillside.

The stepped terraces of the Chinchero ruins.

There was more than we could reasonably explore with the kids. It was even a bit chilly in the morning, probably due to the altitude (Chinchero is located above 12,000 feet!)

Next we went on to see the salt flats. These were kind of nestled in a valley and looked like a large collection of shallow pools where the water flows in and collects, eventually forming salt. Families own the various pools and harvest the salt for sale. The area that you can visit is somewhat limited, primarily consisting of a couple of observation spots. We read later that this is actually a very recent change and probably only a month earlier you were allowed to get much closer.

Overview shot of the salt mines at Salineras from the entry roadway.
A photograph of the salt mines from the observation area with the mountains in the background.

Next, we went on to Moray. Moray is an archaeological site that the exact propose of is still being debated. One prevailing theory is that the Inca used it as an experimental agriculture site to test various crops under different conditions.

An overview of the ruins at Moray.

After Moray, Jorge took us to a restaurant to grab lunch. The restaurant was pretty clearly targeted at tourists and it became evident that he brought us there because he gets a free meal (and maybe a kickback). The lunch turned out to be a little mediocre. We’ve definitely had better in Urubamba for the same price or cheaper.

The vegetarian saltado at the tourist restaurant in Maras.

After lunch we had to make the slightly longer drive back to Urubamba and then up to Ollantaytambo. The ruins at Ollantaytambo turned out to be fairly large. We hiked most of it with our son riding in the carrier on my back (to the chagrin of my hips). We only skipped the one trail that looked a little treacherous and reminded us of our hike up Huayna Picchu from last year.

A small portion of the vast Ollantaytambo ruins with a bit of the town in the background.
The Ollantaytambo ruins crawling with people.

Ollantaytambo seemed like a cute town but maybe a little too touristy. Though we’d like to go back to visit some other parts of the town and maybe hike up to the other ruins that are free to access.

We ultimately decided not to go to Pisac the next day (the ticket only gives you two days to see everything) because the kids were worn out and we were a little tired of hiking around ruins. This might have upset Jorge a bit as he was probably expecting us to hire him for that as well. Oh well.

Buenos Aires for a final stop

Moving on from Santiago, the next stop on our itinerary was a visit to Argentina, specifically Buenos Aires, before returning to Perú. Our AirBnB in Buenos Aires was in a little quieter area than the one in Santiago. It definitely had a more residential fear even though all of the living accommodations were 8-9 story apartment buildings.

Our first full day in the city, we did a little walking tour of the nearby parks. This included a rose garden, Japanese garden, and the Ecoparque.

Our daughter checking out the roses.
Our son checking out the roses. They always have to have the same photos…

The Ecoparque was undergoing an expansive, multi-year renovation so many parts of it were closed. However, this former city zoo was still worth the visit and had many animals for us to see. Interestingly, there were Patagonian Mara wandering freely around which make the kids very excited. Once this park is fully remodeled, we expect it will be something to see.

The next day we had to look for something to do indoors with rain in the forecast for basically the entire day. We took a taxi to the children’s museum which is located in a shopping center. The museum was able to entertain the kids for more than two hours and they could have easily stayed much longer. They had a model grocery store and model McDonald’s restaurant that were very interactive. The kids loved playing at shopping, cashiering, and burger flipping.

Our final day in Buenos Aires was full of rain. After heavy rains much of the night and a steady rain most of the day, the streets were somewhat flooded. I used a brief break in the rain to try out the city’s free(!) bike share program. It was a little tough to do since I didn’t have mobile data while in Argentina (still not sure why since our Peruvian Claro SIMs were supposed to work throughout South America) and had to trigger a code for a bike while in the apartment and then run to the nearest bike station to grab one before the 5 minute timer expired.

Flooded streets after heavy rains.

We tried not to let the rain stop us from getting out and seeing a bit more of the city. We took a taxi (using Cabify) to Caminito, a popular tourist attraction for souvenir shopping and food. Many of the restaurants feature love someone or tango dancing and the building a vibrant colors. We had thought about trying to see the historic buildings on the Plaza de Mayo but the resurgence of the heavy rain kept us away.

We tried to have a somewhat early evening because we had to get up at 4:30 the next morning to catch our airport taxi.

The flights back to Cusco, through Lima, were mostly uneventful. We were a little surprised when the immigration officer in Lima only gave us a 70 day visa rather than the customary 90 days. Luckily we only need 69 days to get us to our return flight home. We’ve heard some rumors of immigration becoming a little more strict on visa offerings in recent years.

A brief stop in Valparaíso

During our stay in Chile, we decided to take a day to make the trip to the coastal city of Valparaíso. Valparaíso turned out to be quite an interesting city. Though we didn’t do our planning well enough and ended up spending a fair amount of time wandering around, heading in the complete wrong direction from the tourist stops we were trying to find.

The city felt a bit different from Santiago, prices were a little cheaper in general but it was a lot more touristy. First we went looking for the beach. There wasn’t really a good spot to get to the water where we were but we were still happy to see the South Pacific.

Next we went searching for the funiculars. Google Maps had is walking a while to try to find one and eventually left us at a dead end. We saw a church up ahead and went to take a closer look. The steps leasing up to the church turned out to be one of the city’s tourist attractions, the piano steps. Valparaíso is also know for it’s street a art, and of course we were able to see lots of interesting works.

A street mural in Valparaíso.

There were several cafes and such. We ultimately stopped in for a little refreshment as it was quite hot out. Again though, the whole vibe is that it is a tourist city and this was reflected in the prices at the cafe.

The famous, “We are not hippies, we are happies” mural.

Overall, the city is very pretty with it’s bold colors, something we don’t do well in Wisconsin, and artistic feel. Not sure it was a favorite destination for us but still worth the bus trip.

A panorama skyline view.

Paying a visit to Santiago

The kids had a week off from school for the break between quarters. Thus we decided to use the opportunity to travel a little outside of Perú, which in turn allows us to renew our 90 day visa. Our first stop on the trip is Santiago, Chile. This is the farthest South we have ever been and also the farthest from home. We used our time in Santiago to explore the city. There are abundant parks and things to entertain the children.

The monument at the top of San Cristóbal.

We rode the funicular up San Cristóbal, visited the zoo, and followed that up with the gondola.

The kids seeing the elephants at the zoo.

There were plenty of opportunities to play in some of the many playgrounds.

The kids had a great time enjoying the abundant play structures in the parks.

One thing we’ve noticed is the strong sense of community. Similar to Urubamba, you’ll regularly find people outside, gathering in green spaces and just being together. Of course this occurs sometimes at home as well, but seems more common here.

On the weekends there are performers in the children’s play areas putting on magic shows and such.

A magician puts on a show in the local park for tips.

The history is plentiful with some colonial structures and architecture as well as precolonial influences in some cases.

Finally, the food is great. Being a big city, there are a lot of options around but also lots of local influences.

A delicious waffle filled with fruit and caramel.

A taste of Chicha

Chicha is a drink most commonly made with a maize base. The most popular form is chicha morada which is made from a purple corn and is non-alcoholic. The taste is generally very fruity and sweet. We found that this was the favored drink served at most parties and get-togethers.

A cup of chicha morada.

Chicha de jora is an alcoholic variant on chicha. Still based on fermented maize, the flavor is not sweet and much more difficult to get acquainted with. If they say that beer is an acquired taste, I found that the flavor of chicha de jora was even more so. Though I didn’t have it enough times in order to acquire it. There are places all over that sell chicha, generally served out of a large clay pot. Chicherias are common places where you can sit with others that are enjoying a break. Though small households that sell right out of their living space are frequest, often with multiple in a given neighborhood. Chicha de jora is generally fairly inexpensive, I was able to purchase a good sized glass for 0.50 soles (about $0.15). The alcohol content is only 1-3% though so generally is is consumed in relatively large quantities.

A glass of chicha de jora purchased from a house down the street for 0.50 soles.

If chicha de jora is a little to difficult to get accustomed to, there is a variant called frutillada or sometimes chicha roja which blends in some kind of fruit, usually strawberry or maybe pomegranate, and sweetened. Some of the edge of the flavor of chicha de jora is softened by the sweetness and it is a little easier to handle. A glass of frutillada was a little more expenses at 1 sol (about $0.30) for a large glass.

A glass of frutillada.

As mentioned above, finding chicha de jora is easy and walking down almost any streen in Urubamba, we would soon spot the red plastic on a wooden pole hanging out over the sidewalk that signifies the location of a chicheria. Of course, any one of these could be a large establishment or just someone’s living room. In the photo below, you can see two of the flags separated by about 30 feet.

The red plastic bag on a pole that signifies a chicheria.
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