Explore Colombia: A Day in Bogotá

I’ve been on a blogging hiatus for the past few weeks, but I have a good excuse!  I was scouting new story ideas on my first visit to South America, my first trip back to the Kentucky Derby since my days as a Derby Princess, and an afternoon hike exploring a waterfall in the Red River Gorge. All of that plus a little bit of down time and work in between has kept me from the keyboard.  Now, I’m back and really excited to share my visit to Bogotá, Colombia.

Bogotá is an enormous city.  Did you know that it’s one of the five largest cities in the American continents, just after Mexico City, Mexico and New York, New York?  The city is home to approximately 8 million residents, not including daily commuters.  I had no idea it was that big until I visited in April as part of a trip with Gate1Travel.  With that many people, you can imagine that Bogotá has no shortage of places to go and things to see.

We began our day in Bogotá with a walking tour through La Candelaría, the oldest portion of the city.  This area is home to the President of Colombia, the Colombian Congress, and many historic buildings.

Although I loved the architecture and history of La Candelaría, my favorite part of this area was our stop in the Museo Botero.  Fernando Botero was a native Colombian who rose to fame through his unique style of painting and sculpture.  No matter the subject, Botero always painted him, her, or it as larger than life and a little overweight. He painted dancers, domestic scenes, animals, and politicians alike, all in vibrant colors and great detail.  To give back to the nation that raised him, Botero founded the Museo Botero so that everyone can enjoy his masterpieces, all for free.  The museum is full of his finest pieces, as well as those of European masters Picasso, Renoir, Monet, and Dali, among others.  It’s housed in a beautiful mansion that was once a single-family home.

Our next stop in La Candelaría was Museo de Oro, the gold museum.  While Museo de Oro does live up to its name by showcasing beautiful works of gold, at the heart, it showcases much more than art and precious metals.  Colombia is the proud home of several native South American tribes, many of whom still reside in the nation’s countryside.  Gold has long been a treasured metal in Colombian tribal culture, where it plays a central role in important rituals.  Museo de Oro’s three floors have areas dedicated to each of the main native Colombian tribes.  Each exhibit tells a story with its design, and Karen, our Gate1 guide for the day, helped each story come alive by providing her own anecdotes.  Perhaps my favorite feature of the exhibits was the use of shadows to create a silhouette so that visitors can imagine how pieces of jewelry are worn together for a tribal event.

From the Museo de Oro, we took a short walk to have a mid-morning coffee break at Juan Valdez Coffee Shop, which I learned is the Colombian equivalent to Starbucks.  Giving into the admittedly tourist-like mentality, we enjoyed a few minutes at a courtyard table in the middle of the capital of Colombia, enjoying our Colombian coffee, and taking in the hustle and bustle of the city around us.  My café helado (iced coffee) really was better than those I’ve had in America (or at least it tasted that way given the atmosphere), and Mr. WACH’s espresso did not disappoint.

Refreshed after our coffee break, our tour ventured out of La Candelaría, past one of the many universities in Bogotá, to a blue building where locals come to play tejo, the national game of Colombia. The best way to describe tejo to an American is that it’s just like cornhole, except the bean bags cause an explosion of gunpowder when they hit the board.  Sound like Bogota 129 - Copyfun?  It was.  The club we visited was Club Deportivo de Tejo, El Porvenir del Norte.  Its exposed brick walls were covered with brightly-colored paint, decorations, and ads for various Colombian beverages.  The club’s mascot was an enormous rooster who roamed the building as he pleased.  Multiple tejo courts line each side of the building.  At each end of the court is a piece of metal, about the size of a cornhole board (roughly 4’ x 3’).  The boards are covered in clay with a metal circle pressed into the middle.  Small triangles filled with gunpowder are pressed into the clay around the circles.  The object of the game is to toss the tejo (a small metal disc) toward the boards and hit the triangles.  Some points are awarded for hitting the board, but the most points are awarded for hitting the triangles, which causes a small explosion that sounds a lot like a gunshot.  We visited during the day and had the place to ourselves, but Karen explained that the club would be packed full of locals having drinks on the weekends, with loud cheers across the room at every tejo explosion.  When tejo finally catches on in the U.S., I want to be on Mr. WACH’s team because he was one of the only two in our group of 25 who caused a tejo explosion!

After a great morning learning about Bogotá’s history and culture, our grouIMG_0999 - Copyp broke for lunch, and we ventured out on our own for some local fare.  We landed in Mangos Parrilla, just a few short few blocks from our hotel.  Anxious to try something we couldn’t get at home, we both ordered a platter full of different Colombian fare called Bandeja Paisa.  It was a TON of food.  Red beans cooked with pork, rice, chicharrón, a fried egg, plantains, chorizo, and arepa, plus a tasty soup that arrived before we even got our main dish and some fresh lemonade to top it off.  Perhaps we should have saved that meal for dinner because we were definitely ready for a nap by the time we finished.  Oh well, no rest for the weary (or those who eat too much)!

With full bellies, we set out for Cerro de Monserrate, which is part of the Andes Mountains and right in the heart of Bogotá. At 3152 meters above sea level, Monserrate towers over the city and provides a beautiful backdrop for virtually any point in Bogotá.  Although we’d read that views from the top of Monserrate would be obscured on a cloudy day, we took a Bogota 157chance and ventured up the mountain in the rain.  I’m so glad we did!  The rain ended just before we started back down and left behind an absolutely gorgeous view of Bogotá that let us see just how big the city really is.  Visitors can travel up the mountain by walking path, funicular (inclined railway), or teleférico (cable car).  We took the funicular up and the teleférico back down so that we could try both experiences, and I recommend both.  The tracks and cables end at a small plateau about 100 meters from the apex of Monserrate, at the beginning of a paved trail that leads to the top.  Visitors can take in stunning views of the city from there or continue venturing up for an even greater vista. Naturally, we chose to keep going.

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Colombia is a heavily Catholic country.  Karen explained that believers often travel up Monserrate, sometimes climbing the last stretch on their hands and knees, as an act of penance.  The landscaped path leading to the apex of the mountain is lined with colorful gardens and impressive bronze statues depicting the Stations of the Cross where the faithful often leave candles or flowers as an offering or in remembrance of loved ones.  Those who reach the top may visit the seventeenth-century Monserrate Sanctuary that is adorned with intricate wood carvings and bright stained glass and houses the treasured shire to El Señor Caido, the Fallen Lord.  Just a few steps further up Monserrate, visitors can find several shops and restaurants where tourists and locals alike can spend a few hours with family and friends, enjoying the scenic view.  Although we’d already eaten, Mr. WACH couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try a Colombian delicacy – fried “big butt” ants.  Not my style, but he happily succeeded in talking a few others on our trip into joining him.

After a quick rest following our trek up Monserrate, we decided to make the most of our remaining time in the city by going out to dinner with IMG_1019 - Copyseveral others on our tour to a restaurant that our tour manager, Victoria, recommended as one of the most unique dining experiences in Bogotá.  Andres Carne de Res definitely fit that bill.  For starters, it holds approximately 800 people on four floors, and the menu is so big that it makes The Cheesecake Factory’s menu look like Raising Cane’s.  You could easily spend hours looking at the unique decorations that cover every square inch of the walls and ceilings.  Each floor has a kingdom name from Dante’s Divine Comedy that inspires its decor:  hell, earth, purgatory, and heaven.  Art, lights, sculpture, signs – you name it, it was probably on the walls of Andres.  A dance floor takes over part of one floor, and the rest is covered with bars and tables.  The longer you visit, the more strange things you’ll see.  We saw people dressed as pirates, people dressed as if they were in the U.S. in the 1950’s, and three grown men who dressed and acted as cats.  All of this juxtaposed against loud music and great food was something that I’ll definitely remember from my visit to Bogotá and recommend to anyone who visits.

If you’re in the mood for something a little different from your typical holiday in the U.S., Bogotá should definitely be on your list.  It has so many things to offer.  Nature lovers can enjoy a day on Monserrate, art enthusiasts can enjoy the Museo Botero, and foodies will be happily overwhelmed by the number of good restaurants.  History buffs will enjoy learning about the native Colombian tribes and the historic old city in La CandelarÍa, and those who appreciate architecture will find no shortage of interesting designs.  On top of all of this, everything is very affordable.  One piece of advice though – make sure you have a basic conversational fluency in Spanish before you visit, unless you’re traveling with a guide.  I was surprised to realize just how rusty my language skills had gotten from lack of use over the past few years, and I could definitely have benefited from a stronger conversational fluency.  Perhaps that’s a good lesson to learn though, because it’s inspiring me to brush up on my Spanish language skills now that I’m home!

© Copyright 2015 – Amelia Adams

Explore Tennessee: Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area

It’s a wonderful thing when the weather is so nice in January that I can spend an entire day outside enjoying the sunshine, made even better when I find a new place to explore and that allows me to bring along my two dogs, Leo and Bella.  Living in the middle of central Kentucky’s beautiful landscape, it’s surprising how few hiking trails near Lexington allow dogs to join their humans for a bit of out outdoor recreation.  My favorite place nearby is the Pinnacles at Indian Fort Theatre in Berea, Kentucky, but since Mr. WACH and I made a resolution to have new local adventures in 2015, we broadened our search for a trail a bit.  Browsing a Google map of the area near Lexington led us to a large nature area in northern Tennessee, just across the state line.  The Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area encompasses 125,000 acres of the Cumberland Plateau with many hiking and horseback riding trails traversing its expansive landscape.  A few quick internet searches revealed striking photos and positive reviews, so our decision was made.

Twin Arches Staircase
Staircases on the Twin Arches Trail

We started our journey heading south on I-75 from Lexington, exiting at Mt. Vernon and heading south through Somerset and Monticello.  We crossed over the Tennessee state line, and shortly after, we entered the west side of the Big South Fork NRRA.  Despite recent ice and melting snow, the roads were in good condition as we drove deep into the back of the park toward the trailhead of the Twin Arches Trail.  The recent winter weather must have made all of the smells of the forest come alive because we could hardly contain Leo and Bella once they got out of the car and began guiding us down the mountain for the first leg of our hike.  The Twin Arches Trail spans 0.7 miles each way, venturing mostly downward with two steep staircases along the way.  At the bottom are two of the largest natural rock arches in the eastern United States, the “Twin Arches.”  The North and South Arches, as they are known, were carved by nature, side-by-side out of the same rocky ridge that still connects them.  According to the National Park Service, “[t]he North Arch has a clearance of 51 feet, a span of 93 feet and its deck is 62 feet high; South Arch has a clearance of 70 feet, a span of 135 feet and its deck is 103 feet high.”  Truly an impressive pair!

Twin Arch
One of the Twin Arches

From the arches, we headed about 400 feet father down the mountain to investigate Charit Creek Lodge.  What a great decision!  Nestled in a valley, the Lodge is a collection of log buildings that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and are the oldest buildings in use by the National Park System.  The main lodge building was built in the early 1800’s and remained a private residence until 1959, becoming a part of the Park System in 1982.  Accessible only by hiking, mountain biking, or horseback, the Lodge provides guests with an experience to truly get away from the city and relax off the grid for a night, or several.  Guests can stay in the main lodge or in one of the nearby cabins, and they can choose between full service (includes linens and full meals) or limited service (bring your own linens and food for grilling out) rates for a night’s stay.  All of the buildings are heated with wood-burning stoves, have screened in porches, and several benches and rocking chairs for enjoying the beautiful scenery in every direction.  The Lodge property runs next to a mountain creek that would be great for wading in the summer or just sitting nearby and enjoying a book.  For those coming in on horseback, the Lodge property contains a barn for overnight accommodations for equine guests.  Dogs are welcome as well, and the concessionaire’s two dogs were very friendly to us and our pups. Our trip didn’t include a stay at Charit Creek Lodge this time, but it is definitely on our list of places to visit this summer!

Charit Creek Canteen
Charit Creek Canteen
Charit Creek Lodge Porch
Charit Creek Lodge Porch
Charit Creek Bath House
Charit Creek Bath House
Charit Creek Lodge
Charit Creek Lodge
Charit Creek Cabin
Charit Creek Cabin

From Charit Creek, we continued around the Twin Arches Loop trail for 6.0 miles.  Our trek guided us along a rocky mountain stream that provided great background music for an afternoon in the woods.  The trail was very well made and included footbridges across muddy areas, even though Bella and Leo mostly chose to run in the mud instead of taking the high road.  Climbing back up towards our starting point, we walked past several impressive overhanging rock shelters and bluffs made all the more beautiful by the icicles melting down the colorful rock faces.  In years past, the shelters and caves were used by Native Americans and early settlers as they sought shelter when traveling through the area.  Most of this part hike had a gradual increase in incline with only a few steep hills every now and then, bringing us back around to the other side of the Twin Arches from where we began.  To finish our day, we climbed three very steep staircases to the top of the arches and walked across the rock bridge to the end of the trail.  We were so glad we saved this climb for the end of the day because seeing the wide vista of the park from the top of the Twin Arches was a great reward for our tired legs and tired puppies.

Bella and Leo at Big South Fork
Bella and Leo learned to use the foot bridge!
Rock Shelter in Big South Fork
Rock Shelter in Big South Fork
Big South Fork Bridge
Creek Bridge in Big South Fork

What a truly wonderful way to spend a day and earn the delicious cheeseburgers and fries we treated ourselves to for dinner!  I’d highly recommend making the trip to Big South Fork.

© Copyright 2015 Amelia Adams

Tips for Plane and Hotel Travel with a Baby

img_1962My husband and I are the proud parents of a three-month-old baby girl, and we recently took our first family plane trip.  Because I’m a planner by nature, I talked to friends who travel with their children and scoured the internet for good ideas before we left.  Now that I’m home, I’m happy to pay it forward and pass along the top twelve tips that I learned about baby-friendly travel.

1. Make a packing list ahead of time, and eliminate everything you don’t really need. Many new parents (including me) are so concerned about addressing their baby’s every need that they carry an entire nursery around in their diaper bag.  Of course, babies need many things out own the town, but after schlepping a bunch of unnecessary stuff through the airport security line, on and off a plane, and throughout downtown Boston, I can say with confidence that my baby didn’t need everything that I packed for her, and I would’ve been much happier with less stuff to manage.  Think critically about what really needs to be in your carry-on and what could survive in a checked bag, and what must be in a diaper bag and what could stay at the hotel for the day.

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2. Try to be in the last group to board the plane (unless you’re trying to put a carry-on in the overhead bin). My daughter really enjoyed flying once she got in the air, but she was quite unhappy when we had to wait on the tarmac for a few minutes before take-off.  It seemed like she was annoyed by being confined into her dad’s Ergobaby pack, got hot, got upset, and had a difficult time calming down.  To avoid the meltdown (or at least minimize the fussing time in a confined airplane), I recommend waiting to board with the last boarding group, as long as you don’t have a carry-on that must go into an overhead bin.  If you have a carry-on, board as early as possible to minimize the chance that you’ll have to put your bag in a bin far from your seat.

3. You can check your car seat and stroller at the terminal gate (and not pay a fee). Checked bag fees are one of my least favorite travel charges, and I was worried about having to pay to check a car seat and stroller.  I was pleasantly surprised to learn that most major airlines will allow you to check a car seat (with attached base) and a stroller for free at the gate, just before you board the flight.  We got special tags at the ticket desk when we checked in, carried our car seat and stroller through security, and dropped them off on the jet-bridge just before we walked onto the plane.  The airline brought them back to the same spot within minutes after we landed.  Easy!  Baby enjoyed being wheeled around the airport, and her parents enjoyed having help carrying her and her gear. I was worried about damage and germs under the plane, so I purchased one of these Gate Check Bags for the stroller and one for the car seat.  They did the job perfectly!

4. Many hotels provide cribs upon request. Safe sleep is one of the most important things for babies, and I was concerned about how I would fly with a pack ‘n’ play so that my daughter would have a safe place to rest.  I was happy to learn that many hotels will have a crib waiting in your room when you arrive if you request it as part of your reservation.  One of our hotels even provided a cute pink and white quilt especially for our girl!

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5. Room service for dinner is a helpful treat. We’re lucky to have a baby who loves to smile and is generally a happy girl.  But even the happiest girls can hit a wall after a long day on the town, and nothing makes them feel better except a quiet room and a safe bed.  It’s not fun having to worry about adult food at the same time as you’re trying to calm a fussy baby.  I suggest staying in a hotel with room service or an onsite restaurant so that your family can relax with in-room dinner, instead of sending someone out to track down food or forcing an unhappy baby to sit through dinner at a restaurant.

6. Have a bottle or pacifier ready for take-off and landing. You know that feeling when the altitude changes and your ears start popping?  Adults understand that feeling and know how to relieve it, but babies don’t.  The sucking motion of drinking from a bottle or using a pacifier helps relieve that pressure on little ears and soothes them as they adjust to the plane’s motion.

7. Use a neck pillow to make a resting place for baby on the plane. My daughter was so much happier when we let her lay down on my husband’s lap during our flight.  We used an adult travel neck pillow along with a baby blanket to make her feel cozy and ready for sleep.  It worked like a charm!  I recommend a blow-up pillow like this one.  You can inflate it as much or as little as you’d like, and it folds up into a small package that takes up little space in a carry-on.

8. Try to fly in early afternoon. Early flights are hard on even the most seasoned adult travelers.  Getting up, clean, dressed, packed, and to the airport before dawn is not for the faint of heart.  I feel similarly about flying late in the evening.  A late flight always sounds good to me when I’m booking because it means that I can squeeze a few more hours into my trip.  Then, when I’m actually on the plane home, I’m inevitably exhausted and so ready to be in my bed.  Babies are no different.  If it fits your schedule, I suggest trying to schedule a flight in early afternoon, say 1:00ish.  Assuming you’re on a domestic flight, that gives you and baby time to rest in the hotel in the morning, take your time getting to the airport, and (usually) get home at a reasonable hour.  Any earlier and you risk a hectic airport commute or missed flight, and much later, you risk flying home with a baby who hasn’t slept all day.

9. Remain calm (at least outwardly). Baby will feed off of your emotions. The act of traveling is stressful.  Yes, I agree that the journey is part of the adventure, but sometimes the journey includes a cranky gate agent, unexpected overweight baggage fees, and crappy airport coffee, and ain’t nobody got time or energy for that.  It’s easier said than done, but try your best to remain outwardly calm (even if you’re unhappy inside).  Your baby looks to you for emotional cues and feelings of safety, and she will be in a much better mood if you appear to be.

10. You can carry breast milk and formula supplies through security. TSA makes an exception to the 3-1-1 rule for liquids in the case of breast milk and formula.  Before going through security, I suggest separating out the liquids that would not otherwise pass TSA inspection so that it’s easy to show them to the TSA officers.  When you arrive at the security checkpoint, alert the TSA officers that you have baby food items and put them in a separate bin.  The officers will require you to send everything through the x-ray machine while you carry baby through the metal detector.  The officers may test the liquids for problems, and you can request that they take extra precautions when inspecting sealed containers.  More information from the TSA is available here.  (A thing I learned the hard way:  gel ice packs are only allowed if they’re frozen.  If they’ve thawed throughout the day and returned to gel, TSA will make you throw them away.)

11. Allow yourself way more time than you think you’ll need. It’s easy to envision the Pinterest perfect trip with baby:  she’s smiling the whole time, wears adorable outfits, eats on schedule, naps as needed, and gives her parents time to have a conversation about the amazing things they’re seeing.  For some hours of the day, that may be exactly what happens.  Others, your carefully planned itinerary may be thrown off by an hour or more by the need to find a quiet place to nap or search out a clean restroom for a diaper and clothing change.  If you have to be anywhere at a certain time, be sure to allow way more time than you think you’ll need to get there.  Trust me, you may not see as much that way, but you’ll enjoy what you do see so much more.

12. Just go with it. Traveling with a baby is certainly more work than traveling with only adults, but it’s worth it to get to explore a new place with your new family! Do your best to anticipate that many things probably will not go exactly as you planned, and be willing to adapt as needed.  Starting your travel with that mindset and maintaining it throughout your trip will do wonders for your ability to enjoy your time away.

Happy travels!

Amelia Adams © Copyright 2018