Locals warned us to be alert on the Buenos Aires subway, or  “subte,” because the city is the pickpocketing capital of the world. Most major cities have petty crime so we were careful, as we are anywhere, but also wouldn’t let it affect our plans to go out and explore the vibrant city.

On our very first day riding the subway we managed to get a little too close to one pickpocketing and even had an encounter with one of the thieves. We had just stepped off the train at the crowded 9 de Julio station and were part of the scrum headed towards the exit.

Suddenly a man wearing a dark blue t-shirt bumped up hard against my left shoulder. I was ready to give him a Philly elbow back to clear some space when the man abruptly stopped in front of me. This set off my antenna.

Then I noticed that another man wearing a green hoodie, about three feet in front of me, had a white liquid dripping on his shoulder. A common ruse is to squirt something on the potential victim. This marks him to the pickpocket gang, which usually consists of three people, and sets up the next part of the con.

Buenos Aires subte subway two people

Passengers like these know to be extra vigilant.

One of the thieves said to the man that his sweatshirt was stained and started wiping it off to distract him. I tried to warn him but Larissa was standing right next to one of the pickpockets and I wasn’t sure if the whole thing was just a diversion to get to her. I called out “Riss, Riss!” and waved her over to me.

Meanwhile, as the victim was turning to look at his stained shoulder his wallet was lifted by the third man. A woman a few feet away noticed this and yelled at him that he has just been pickpocketed. The man who had bumped my shoulder agreed and pointed down the platform in the opposite direction of where his partner was running towards the exit. I finally managed to convince the victim that the guy pointing was in on it too so he finally ran up the stairs after his wallet.

In the meantime I grabbed the shoulder of the thief who was still there and yelled in my best high-school Spanish, ‘Polizia! Polizia!” Unfortunately I sucked at Spanish and people just stared at me oddly. The thief looked stunned to be accosted but recovered enough to say in his best movie English, “Fu** you!”

I was out of Spanish expressions at that point and called the crook a shrimp (he was pretty short) holding my fingers an inch apart for emphasis. Since no police were forthcoming (for all we know I yelled for a plumber, but we didn’t see anyone running up wielding a plunger either) I parted ways with the criminal.

Buenos Aires subway subte mural

 The tile murals on the subte are gorgeous, just don’t get too distracted by them.

A “charity” mugging in Paris

This was the second time we’d come across a pickpocketing on this trip. In June we rode the Eurostar train from Paris to London. On board we met an Australian couple who had been robbed just outside the Gare Du Nord station in Paris. When they got out of their taxi they naturally reached for their wallet to pay the driver. This let potential thieves know which pocket their wallet was in.

As they walked away from their cab they were approached by several young women with clipboards who said they were getting petitions signed for a charity. We see these people everywhere, including our fair city of Philadelphia. Most are legitimate but the British have come up with a great name for them, chuggers, as in charity muggers.

The woman held the clipboard up to the tourist’s chest and used it as camouflage for her hands to pickpocket him. We hadn’t heard of this scam before and thought we’d pass it along so you can be aware of it.

What scams have you seen in your travels?
28581550060_131210d7e7_mLarissa and Michael are your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive our free quarterly newsletter with updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

My sister and I have wanted to visit the Galapagos since we were kids.  The volcanic island archipelago that straddles the equator is considered by many to be a living laboratory of flora, fauna and geology—perfect for the adventure traveler. We’re not exactly rugged adventure types, and at this point in life we like our creature comforts. But we didn’t want a sedate cruise with a bunch of retirees, either. Was it possible to find a compromise where we enjoyed adventure and creature comforts on the same trip?

Midlife adventure in the Galapagos-pedicureAs we disembarked from the plane on San Cristobal Island Cecibel introduced herself. “Ceci” was a naturalist and one of the certified guides to the Galapagos National Park who would oversee our adventures for the week. But despite all her experience hiking and diving and spotting wildlife she still managed to keep her toenails painted green.  This was a promising sign.

It turns out the answer is YES . . .it is possible!  You can have a mid life adventure in the Galapagos. My sister and I spent a week exploring the islands and managed a hike to spot blue-footed boobies, swam with sea lions and more—all without making total fools of ourselves or requiring a rescue from the Ecuadoran Coast Guard.

hiking to see iguanas-galapagos

The key was seeing the islands on a mini cruise: a boat that was large enough to offer creature comforts, yet small enough to offer plenty of opportunity for adventure.  We sailed on the motor yacht Letty, which is part of the Ecoventura fleet. At just 20 passengers, the Letty provided us with two certified national park guides, enabling us to have personalized attention on various activities, and address all experience levels.  Ceci helped us newbies squirm into wetsuits for our deep-water snorkel excursion as her colleague Gustavo began to identify fish and sea turtles with the experienced divers already in the water.

mid life adventure galapagos-blue footed booby

A blue-footed booby sporting the official pedicure of the Galapagos

During a visit to the island of Espanola, the agile among us took a two-mile trek across a rocky volcanic path in search of baby boobies and marine iguanas. (And we were very glad we invested in some Keen hiking sandals for the process!) Meanwhile our guides arranged a morning hike-free beach outing at a bay filled with baby sea lions for a fellow passenger who was recuperating from knee surgery.

Hiking in the GalapagosArmed with sturdy Keen hiking sandals and SPF 100 my sister Laine is ready for a hike in search of baby boobies.

By day three, emboldened by our snorkeling and hiking success, we were the first two in the water in the cove to frolic with sea lions. Amid squeals, splashing and giggles we marveled that our friends back home would never believe the Mazurek girls were diving and cavorting with these playful marine mammals (and happily looking like two drowned rats in the process). Later that same afternoon, having slathered our skin with SPF 100 (no typo—this is the equator, after all) we skimmed across the waves in a sea kayak, semi-surfing over swells that had us whooping with joy.

swimming with sea lions in galapagostReady to swim with the sea lions.

Best of all, after an exhilarating day of adventures, we returned to our cabin and a refreshing shower with plenty of pampering toiletries, fluffy towels and a hair dryer. We had a few minutes to touch up the red polish on our toes before heading in to our dinner of freshly grilled sea bass.  We had done it:  we had become adventure travelers who still managed to dress for dinner!

Creature comforts in the Galapagos

Showered and gussied-up, but ready for another day of adventure!

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layer cake

Dulce de leche seems simple. It’s made up of just two ingredients: milk and sugar. The milk and sugar are slowly cooked so the sugar caramelizes, creating an intense, complex sweetness that is the best flavor on earth. The birthplace of dulce de leche is South America. During our time in Buenos Aires, our mission was to sample as many products with dulce de leche as possible. It’s a tough job but, well you know.

 These cakes are decorated with dulce de leche frosting with even more between the layers inside.

black and white cookie

Alfajores: A tasty twist on the New York black-and-white cookie. Take one of each and sandwich them around a layer of dulce de leche.

criossants

Here’s a simple recipe you can try at home: take a croissant, slice it open, slather the inside with dulce de leche, sprinkle powdered sugar on it. Done.

jars supermarket shelf

 These supermarket shelves are stacked with so many varieties of dulce de leche that we couldn’t try them all.

pastry shop buenos aires argentina

 Larissa’s in control as she selects some treats at a Buenos Aires bakery.

The rich gooey carmel of dulce de leche may be the best flavor in the world. We tried it in as many varieties as possible while visiting Argentina, its birthplace

Dulce de leche gelato

Not only is dulce de leche the best flavor on earth, it also makes the very best gelato.

Dulce de leche gelato

It’s hard to believe, but gelato is less fattening than ice cream. So eat up.

Dulce de leche menu gelataria

In America, an ice cream store may have one flavor of dulce de leche. In Buenos Aires they have up to a dozen. 

Dulce de leche in Buenos Aires spinning gelato cone

The gelato in Argentina is spun around, not scooped, before being placed on the cone. 

Dulce de leche Volta Buenos Aires

Mario and Jimmy are the gelato spinners at Volta, and huge Rocky fans. 

Torta de Mil Hojas

Possibly the sweetest concoction we have ever tasted is Torta de Mil Hojas, sometimes called Torta Rogel. It’s made up of many layers of crepes with dulce de leche slathered between each layer. The whole thing is topped off with a baked meringue. Our initial excitement when the cake was brought to our table faded away though; we met our match in the Torta de Mil Hojas and couldn’t finish it.

torta miloja cake

The Torte Miloja in all its glory. Count the layers. 

Dulce de leche cake rissy

Even sharing this cake between us we just couldn’t finish it. Afterwards we were a bit hepped up on all the sugar.

La Salamandra Cafe

A restaurant devoted to dulce de leche? That’s one of the things that makes Buenos Aires so special.

La salamandra cafe buenos aires

We just had to try this place. 

La Salamandra condiment

You know a restaurant is good when dulce de leche is the 3rd condiment, right after salt and pepper.

La Salamandra spoonful and cookie

For dessert try the dulce de leche three ways: a tart , a cookie and a spoonful of pure bliss.

Can a good thing be ruined?

mcdonalds buenos aires (556x615)

Even McDonalds is into it. Their dulce de leche sundae is quite popular. Funny thing though, when you meet Americans overseas they will only grudgingly admit to going to McDonalds. It’s like admitting they watch porn or something.

Hungry? Try a taste of dulce de leche at home.

Changes in Longitude Larissa & Michael Milne at Arctic Circle

We’re Larissa and Michael, your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive updates and valuable travel tips subscribe to our travel newsletter here.

Recoleta is the most famous cemetery in Buenos Aires, not just because it’s the burial place of Eva Peron. It’s a beautiful place to visit and home to almost 100 stray cats. They’re truly fat cats since a group of women feeds them twice a day. An hour spent at Recoleta is an oasis in the dynamic city of Buenos Aires.  You can even book an affordable hotel on Expedia close to this popular attraction. The Recoleta area is very quiet and has good options for accommodation that are convenient to shops and restaurants.

Eva Peron at Recoleta Cemetery

Buenos Aires recoleta cemetery Evita Duarte tomb

The famous Eva Peron of Evita fame is buried with her family in the Duarte mausoleum. She is buried 22 feet underground to prevent anyone taking her body.

Recoleta cemetery evita plaque

For all her influence on political history and pop culture, we were surprised to learn that Eva Peron was only 33 when she died.

Buenos Aires Recoleta cemetery evita plaque

Before being buried at Recoleta, she had lain in a graveyard for over two decades in Italy under an assumed name. A previous government had sent her corpse overseas because they were so worried about the symbolic value of her burial site.

Buenos Aires Recolata cemetary angel

 

Buenos Aires recoleta Cemetery 2 angels cross

 Buenos Aires is blessed with clear skies for a large city. Which makes sense for a city whose name means “good air.”

Buenos Aires Recoleta cemetary skull

Despite all the angels hovering above, some of the symbolism is downright morbid.

Buenos Aires recoleta cemetery greek tomb

 This tomb looks like it would be right at home in Egypt.

Recoleta broken tombs

Some of the tombs are falling apart, revealing the coffins buried inside. 

Buenos Aires Recoleta cemetery

Buenos Aires recoleta Cemetery

Miguel Cane, with a name sounding very much like the English actor Michael Caine, was a president of the Jockey Club in Buenos Aires.

Buenos Aires recoleta cemetery cats

Recoleta Cemetery is also famous for its many feral cats. A child chases one as Jesus looks on.

We seem to have a growing fascination with strolling around cemeteries on our travels. Rather than being dreary, they are beautiful outdoor art galleries that celebrate life. Recoleta is open from 8AM to 6PM daily, with free admission. English language tours are offered on Thursdays at 11AM.

Here are pictures of Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris, the final resting place for many French luminaries and even Doors singer Jim Morrison.

Visiting Buenos Aires? We stayed in an Airbnb apartment.Sign up for Airbnb through our referral link and you'll get at $35 on your first stay (& so will we :)
28581550060_131210d7e7_mLarissa and Michael are your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive our free quarterly newsletter with updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

From guest writer Dani Blanchette ~ Medellin, Colombia has emerged from a turbulent past and evolved into a modern city on the forefront of technology and public transportation. There are many free things to do in Medellin for all ages. Here are some of my favorite free activities in Medellin.

1. The Botanical Gardens

Botanical Gardens in Medellin Colombia

Check out the iguanas at the Botanical Gardens. 

The Botanical Gardens provide a small sanctuary right the center of the city. Located diagonally across from the Universidad Metro stop, it houses an array of ecological systems and is just a great place to unwind, let your children run loose, and have a relaxing picnic. Stroll around the jungle and desert areas, grassy knolls, and a lake with ducks and iguanas running around. (The iguanas are huge!) There are also a few restaurants and food vendors on the property, and you can easily get the food packed up to go sit by the lake and picnic. Sometimes there are street musicians or small artisan fairs in front of the property. This is a great place for a family outing or a romantic afternoon. The mornings are best, as it can become a bit more crowded once school gets out and on the weekends.

2. The Outdoor Escalators

Free things to do in Medellin escalators

The outdoor escalators are a high-tech contrast to the surrounding neighborhood. 

The Outdoor Escalators are a short bus ride from the San Javier metro stop and are the first outdoor escalators in the world to be used as part of a daily public transportation system. Built up the side of a mountain in Communa 13 – one of Medellin’s poorest communities – the series of 6 escalators turns what was once a 35 minute climb up steep mountainside stairs, into a 5 ½ minute ride. The views from the top are outstanding, and the escalators are totally free to use (for residents and tourists). They are also covered to help protect people (and the machinery) from inclement weather. Completed in July, 2012, the surrounding areas are still being beautified. A lookout deck is under construction at the top of the escalators and should be ready for your visit. Exercise care, caution and common sense when visiting this part of the city.

3. The Metro Cables

MetroCables free things Medellin Colombia

The Metrocable provides sweeping views over the city.

Medellin is home to two metro cable lines – similar to gondolas at ski resorts or other tourist places. The difference in these lines, is that they were the first in the world to be built solely for use as part of the daily public transportation system. At the San Javier metro stop in the west of the city houses one line weaves up and down the hillside neighborhoods.

Jump off at any stop to see amazing views and get a feel for the living conditions of the poorer families in Medellin. The other metro line is located off the Acevedo metro stop in northern Medellin. It climbs up the hillside into the eastern barrios. At the top of the official metro stops, pay $5,000COP ($2.50 USD) to continue this line into Arvi Park (the $5,000 is the entrance fee into the park).

4. Pueblito Paisa

Pueblito Paisa

(Photo source: Luz Andriana Villa A., Flickr)

Pueblito Paisa is a replica of a traditional Antioquian small town (pueblito) that is built in the heart of the city of Medellin. There are many actual pueblitos (Santa Fe de Antioquia, Guatape) that are an hour or so bus ride out of Medellin, but if you don’t have the money or time to go on a day or overnight trip, in a couple of hours you can go and see Pueblito Paisa. This miniaturized town (it is only a few building around a town center type square) will give you that authentic Colombian small town experience.

Located at Calle 30A No. 55-64 on Nutibara Hill, Pueblito Paisa is a nice, relaxing area to spend an afternoon. The weekends get more crowded, but it is a little oasis from the bustling, westernized city below. It is also a family friendly place for those traveling with children.

5. Pequeño Teatro (The Little Theater)

The theater is a favorite among locals but not well known by visitors.  The best part about this theater is: SHOWS ARE FREE. After a performance for 2 people and 498 empty seats figured it needed to change its plan. The struggle of selling tickets and filling seats, which climaxed with the 2 person audience, made the theater realize that this is art, and art should be free to the public. Now, all shows are free and if you like the show, you can voluntarily (or not) contribute at the end. Because of this change, the theater now packs a full crowd for each performance, and gets to expose a greater community to this wonderful art.

All performances are in Spanish, but even if you don’t speak Spanish, you can still enjoy the shows. This is also a great place to meet locals and make friends. Pequeño Teatro is one of Medellin’s best kept free local secrets.

Bonus Free Thing – The Estadio Outdoor Pool Complex

Estadio pool complex Medellin

The gorgeous setting of the Estadio Pool Complex. 

These are just 5 free things to do around Medellin, but in reality there are dozens of free things – many of them family oriented. One of my personal favorite free places is the free Estadio pool complex. Just off the Estadio metro stop are 7 FREE pools. A few of these are for practices only, but the 2 main pools are open to the public, along with a high diving pool that also offers SCUBA lessons, and a smaller family pool in the back. They also offer swimming lessons here. With just your ID and a swim cap you can get some exercise, relax, and cool off. (The swim cap is mandatory for everyone. If you don’t have one, you can buy one just outside the pool entrance for $3.000COP / $1.50USD)

There are also walking areas, places to skateboard, and a slew of restaurants just down 70th (the main road). This complex is in the heart of Medellin, so it is easy to reach by public transportation and cab. Very few tourists know about this place.

Dani Blanchette Going NomadicDani Blanchette is a music and travel photographer who sold everything she owned and left on a one-way ticket to South America in September of 2011. She is the creator of the anti-tourism, music heavy travel blog Going Nomadic.

She recently returned to the USA, and is working on a series of anti-tourism destination sites. You can keep up with her adventures on Facebook and Twitter.

We first noticed it on the drive from the airport. Buenos Aires is a city full of vintage cars. Not the pre-Castro cars that have become a moving historic landmark in Cuba, but solid American cars from the 60s and 70s, particularly Ford Falcons. They used to be built in Argentina and judging by what we saw, they were built to last. It’s not unusual to see people driving around cars that are 50 years old. Here are a few of our favorite vintage cars of Latin America:

Vintage cars of Latin America Buenos Aires ford falcon

 

Vintage cars Buenos Aires blue falcon Larissa

Larissa checks out her new ride.

Vintage cars Latin America Buenos Aires blue falcon dashboard

What’s on your dashboard?

Vintage cars Latin America Buenos Aires white Ford Taurus

 

Buenos Aires vintage car green falcon

A tango musician gets ready for the night’s gig.

Vintage cars Buenos Aires black Peugeot

 

Vintage cars Buenos Aires orange pickup truck (575x446)

 We thought all the old trucks were orange until we realized it was rust.

Vintage cars of Buenos Aires VW bus

 

Vintage cars Latin America Buenos Aires

 

Buenos Aires vintage graffiti car

Buenos Aires may be the world leader in graffiti. Apparently if a car is parked long enough it’ll become a canvas too.

Vintage cars of Uruguay

We took a ferry to Colonia Del Sacramento in Uruguay, a town even more known for the old cars still plying its streets.

Vintage Studebaker Uruguay

A Studebaker in primo condition. 

Vintage Austin grill

A vintage Austin grill still gleams.

Vintage car orange volkswagen Uruguay

There must be some excellent German mechanics in Uruguay and Argentina because there are old Volkswagen Beetles everywhere.

 Vintage car planter

If a car sits around look enough it makes a wonderful planter.

Vintage cars of Colombia

The most popular vintage car in Bogota appears to be the Volkswagen Beetle. One Sunday afternoon we saw all four of these vying for attention in one block:

Colombia Bogota vintage blue VW beetle

 Colombia Bogota vintage orange VW beetle_

Colombia Bogota white and orange vintage VW beetle

28581550060_131210d7e7_mLarissa and Michael are your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive our free quarterly newsletter with updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

Which is your favorite vintage car photo?

We’ve all fallen for them; food places the guidebooks say you absolutely must try when visiting a certain city.  So we join all the other tourists who’ve read the same guides and wait on long lines for what turns out to be overrated, mediocre, and often overpriced food. Here are the top ten food tourist traps we’ve come across in our travels:

1)  Peter Luger Steak House, Brooklyn 

We love traveling to off-the-beaten-path locations for great food. Too bad that was not the case at this Brooklyn institution where we were served a rather pedestrian steak.  Afterwards we asked the waiter which was his favorite and he replied that he was a vegetarian. Maybe we should have followed his example and stuck with the salad.

2)  Berthillon Ice Cream, Paris

Located on the chic Ile Saint- Louis in the heart of Paris, this establishment isn’t terrible, but it does nothing to justify its consistently long lines. Paris is not a big ice cream town so in the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king. In any other city Berthillon would not stand out.

3)  The “Original” Starbucks, Seattle 

Located in the Pike Place Market, it’s actually the second Starbucks, but the oldest remaining. Passengers disgorge from the nearby cruise ship terminal and create lines that stretch up the street for the same beverage that can be had around the block with no wait. (Shown above.)

4)  Pat’s/Geno’s Cheesesteaks, Philadelphia

These two cheesesteak vendors in our home city are able to survive by selling less than mediocre cheesesteaks to out-of-town visitors and post-game Flyers fans. This is a case where a tourist is better off asking a local where to get the best cheesesteak. Be prepared though, ask ten Philadelphians which is their favorite and you might get ten different answers. We’re partial to John’s Roast Pork and the Fire Steak at Jake’s Sandwich Board.

5)  Singapore Sling, Singapore

This drink was invented at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore. They charge $20 for the concoction, which isn’t even made by hand anymore. Tourists pack the place by the busload to fork over their money, down the drink in about five minutes and leave. To show how marked up the price is, the Raffles in Siem Reap, Cambodia charges $9 for the same beverage.

Singapore Sling

We admit we fell for the $20 Singapore Sling, but afterwards Michael said he felt dirty

6)  Pink’s Famous Hot Dogs, Los Angeles

Catering to hungry Los Angelenos since 1939, it’s street cred has kicked up a notch with its appearance in the opening credits of Entourage. We waited in line for 45 minutes before even getting to order. The hot dog was good but not worth the time spent.

7)  Ted Drewes Custard, Missouri 

Famous among food writers who recommend the “concrete,” basically a really thick shake that is handed to you upside down to show it is so thick that it won’t fall out of the cup. The only thing they forgot to pack into it was flavor.

8)  Any Chicago-style pizza, Chicago

It’s not pizza. Change the name to Chicago-style casserole and we’ll give it a another try.

9)  Skyline Chili, Cincinnati

This one pains us because we have family we love very much in Cincinnati who eat this stuff all the time and we hope they’ll still talk to us. For a better example of this regional favorite head on over to the original Camp Washington Chili.

10)  Pizza and steak, Buenos Aires

We were so excited to go to Buenos Aires based on the reputation of its Italian food, particularly pizza, and steak. Sorry to report that neither was any good. The pizza has a puffy, doughy crust, way too much cheese and a bland sauce. It looked just liek frozen pizza. The steak is served well-done. We tried to order it rare at several places and it still came well done. I don’t care how good the beef is if it’s cooked into submission.

Pizza Buenos Aires

Disappointing pizza in Buenos Aires.

If you’re looking for recommendations for a city try going to Chowhound. It’s a place where foodies are not shy about cheering, or jeering, their local establishments.

What overrated food places can you add to the list?