Thursday, 6 November 2014

Travelling in Argentina: need to know

So I haven't blogged in ages - I guess the blog itself never really took off, life kept getting in the way.

Anyway I wanted to write a post on my recent travels in Argentina. With the crazy inflation (officially, something like 11%, unofficially more like 20%), lots of prices you find on the Internet or in guidebooks are way off current prices. These prices are correct for October 28th - November 6th). I'll continue to update add my trip continues. 

At the time of my trip, the official exchsnge rate was ~ AR$8.4 to US$1. The blue rate was AR$13.5-14.0, which we managed to get in our hotels. On the street, you can get slightly higher rates (14.2-14.5) but you have to beware of fake pesos.

(All prices in pesos)

Buenos Aires
Taxi from Ezeiza airport to Palermo Soho (~30-40mins) $380
Public transport $3-4 per journey (with a subte card, works like an oyster card)

El Calafate
Taxi from airport to town centre $300 (but only $200 the other way)
Entrance to national park $215
Bus to El Chalten (one way) $275
Mini ice trekking with Heilo y Aventura $1100

Taxi from airport to city centre $90
Tastings at wineries $40-$100
Bike hire $150 (daily at Baccus bikes)

Taxi from airport to city centre $90
Note: the blue exchange rate is harder to get in Salta. We got 12.8 from a guy who drove to our hotel to exchange the money. However, this rate was only for US$50 and US$100 bills - smaller bills only got 12.0

Taxi from the airport to town $220 (this price is fixed)
Bus to Brazil $40 (each way with Rio Uruguay, see below)
Bus to Argentinian falls, $40 (each way)

Getting to Brazil
The bus will stop twice on the way there: 1. Get an exit stamp from Argentina immigration (you must get off the bus); 2. The bus driver will collect all passports and get an entry stamp from Brazil immigration (stay on the bus)
There are buses to Brazil around every hour on the half hour, run by two different companies, Rio Uruguay and Crucero del Norte. CdN buses look nicer but I don't know if they are more expensive.
Return buses run every hour on the hour, the last one at 5pm, which is the time the park closes on the Brazilian side anyway. You get very wet at the falls, even if it's good weather so bring a waterproof, or you can buy one there for $60. Also bring a towel to dry down afterwards, and maybe even a change of clothing.
Entry to the park is c.50 brazilian Reals, or $348. If possible pay in reals or on card, as the official exchange rate is much better than the cash rate.
Bottle of wine in a restaurant
- cheap $65 (usually only one or two bottles at this price)
- mid $100-$200 (usually loads at this price)
- expensive: all the way up to $000s of pesos, but usually less than $1000

Anything from $400 (empanadas to start, one bottle of wine, two mains around $100 each) to $900 (eg very good steak, nicer wine, water, starters, sides)
Bottle of water $25 (1l ish I think, in a restaurant)
Ice cream $40 (small)

Luggage Allowance
Most internal flights have a luggage allowance of 15kg (Aerolineas, LAN, Austral). However this isn't very strictly enforced - we had bags weighing up to 19kg and it was never a problem. In addition you can take several items of hand luggage. Be aware however that the rules for what you can carry in it seem to be different than for the UK - e.g. no    tweezers, nail files, and liquids (including cosmetics). Despite this, I often had suncream (<100ml) in my luggage and it was never a problem. So risk it at your peril!

All the airports we visited (except EZE, the main international one in Buenos Aires) were very efficient - think 15 minutes from landing to getting your bags and finding a taxi, so any transfers shouldn't need too much time. There is also no passport control or ID checks when flying internally which speeds the process up significantly!

English is not widely spoken. I would suggest learning some numbers before you go (they are pretty easy to understand if you know 1-20 and 100) and a few foods as most menus don't have translations.
If you order water, you will often be asked "sin or con gas?". This means without (sin) or with (con) bubbles - i.e. still or sparkling.
If you order tea or coffee you will hear "sin or con leche?" - leche is milk.
I don't speak spanish myself so I won't go into any more detail on translations! I would advise having written addresses for all your hotels to make navigating taxis easier.

Hopefully this is helpful to someone! Definitely bring dollars as you can only withdraw pesos from ATMs and then you get the official rate, which add explained above is much less favourable.  Your hotel / hostel should be able to exocrine where to exchange if they won't do it themself.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Progress so far, what I've been eating

My healthy eating and dieting regime is going quite well, but it's been difficult, and there's still a way to go! Quick check in though: I've lost 2.3kg!

I'm doing the 5:2, as I previously said, but trying to generally eat low calorie foods. Some examples:

0% fat greek yoghurt*
Scrambled eggs
Rye bread with almond butter

Miso soup (lots of this, as so low calorie)
Salad - typically tomatoes, cucumber, mini peppers, sometimes with tuna or salmon

Fish (cod, salmon, haddock...)
Green vegetables (broccoli, mange tout, asparagus, courgette...)

*there's been a lot of hype about sugar replacing fat in low fat versions of some products. I checked, and the 0% fat version of the yoghurt I buy has less sugar than both the full fat and low fat versions 

I've also been trying to cook without fat, using spices, seasoning and things like chilli, garlic and ginger to add flavour. 

I think I might need to start thinking up  alternatives though as getting a little fed up of fish and vegetables.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Another year, another attempt at blogging

So I was pretty rubbish at blogging last year, giving up in March, which coincided with starting a new job and being sent off to Turkey nearly every week until December. Not the greatest excuse, as other people manage to blog with busy jobs, although I suppose it's my blog so I can write on it as often as I like!

Sadly my resolutions for this year are the same as they always are - eat less, drink less, spend less (and thus save more). For this year however, I'm also going to include write a blog post at least once a week (and maybe even get Harry to contribute!), and play my piano and saxophone at least twice a month (if I can still remember how to play). The creative side of my brain needs exercising!

I'm off on the 5:2 diet again this year, it worked really well last year but then after working away, it got hard to control my calorie intake (well to limit it to 500/day) as I was living off plane food and hotel food. And let's face it, I was never going to fast on the weekends when I was back in London. I've had a rather indulgent festive season and so looking to lose about 1 stone, before I go to New York in Feb (20th).

So far today I've had:

1 pint of hot water with lemon juice (a good shake of the bottled stuff, not cordial) with cayenne pepper (also a good shake)
1 miso soup (from a sachet)
1 1/2 carrots
5 cherry tomatoes

And yes I am hungry... waiting to go home and have some vegetables and maybe some dahl (lentils are only about 100 cal for 100g!).

I've also joined the work gym with a class-only membership, so next week I am planning on doing three classes during my lunchtimes - let's see if I actually stick to that.

I'm hoping to share some more recipes on the blog this year,  not just 5:2 recipes as I really do enjoy cooking and now I have an ipad, the quality of my photos should hopefully be a bit better than those I used to take on my phone.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Little Paris on Mare Street

On Friday, I went to the very recently opened Le Bouchon Fourchette on Mare Street in Hackney. I love Hackney, and Mare Street in particular has some great places along it, although there's no denying that this new restaurant is at the more 'rough and ready' end of Mare Street. However, hopefully this is a sign of things to come, as a decent neighbourhood restaurant is definitely something that's lacking.

Stolen from Le Bouchon's facebook page.. sorry!
The restaurant itself is decorated in a very 'on-trend' way, all stripped back and bare with  reclaimed(?) furniture, plain walls and a concrete floor. It was simple but I liked it and the buzzing atmosphere all evening on Friday indicated that so did other locals!

The wine list is excellent, around 10 glasses of red and white, plus rose and sparkling, all available by 125ml, 375ml [that's a half bottle] and by the bottle. I do love a restaurant that allows you to order every wine by the glass, and with prices starting at £3.80 or so, it was very good value. I had a very nice fruity Pinot Noir and the boyfriend had a slightly richer, deeper Merlot. The wait staff also brought out a carafe of tap water without me asking for it - always a nice touch.

To start, we shared some bread and butter, along with mackerel rillettes with cumin bread (me) and bone marrow with sourdough (?) bread. The mackerel rillettes had a lovely texture, not too smooth but no lumps either, and the cumin bread was a revelation. I didn't try any of the bone marrow but it disappeared quickly and I was assured it was all good! 

For main, we both had the steak frites, mine with the shallot sauce, his with the peppercorn sauce, along with a side of garlic spinach. Just simple food, cooked well. The frites were definitely more chip-like than fry-like, but that's how I like them so I was happy. 

The only slightly bum note of the meal was the dessert. We chose the Chocolate Liegeois, which was £7 and billed as an ideal dish to share. I confess that I should have asked what this was, as I was expecting some kind of chocolate tart. Instead, it was a pretty average chocolate sundae, but with rather a lot of vanilla ice cream, and definitely not worth £7. It was a shame as the other desserts looked really good and so I don't think it was a fair representation of the restaurant. So, Le Bouchon, if you're reading this - either ditch the ice cream sundae, make it (a lot) more chocolate-y and also cut the price - it definitely wasn't worth £7 (other desserts were around £5), nor particularly big to share.

However, don't let this put you off. On the whole the food was great, simple but tasty, and with a very appealing menu (it's not often I often want to eat the whole menu!). The wine list has enough choice to be interesting, plenty of good value wines and all available by the glass. Plus, it's fantastic value: starters are £4 - £6, and mains around £8 - £12. We spent £67, for a three course meal each, four glasses of wine, bread and service charge.

It's not breaking any boundaries but then neither is it trying to - instead, it's simply offering a taste of Paris in Hackney. Go now.

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Put your fashion foot forward

I have a presentation tonight at the London College of Fashion, discussing a career in consulting and how it could apply to those studying Fashion and Management. Whether or not this is of interest to those students, I have no idea. But, the big thing for me wasn't what I was going to say - it was what I was going to wear.

A quick trolley dash down Oxford Street resulted in this...

Terrible photo of me and my room!

Anyway, the jumper is the Annie Sparkle Crew, £65 from Whistles.
Skirt is the Summer Shower Skirt, £110 from Whistles. (both available here)
Worn with my kitten heeled 'Vamp' shoes from Zara (see this post).

Usually I'm not a fan of spending this much on one or two items, BUT, there are two offers you can take advantage of:

1. If you have an AMEX, sync it to your foursquare account, and then 'check-in' at House of Fraser to receive £25 off any purchase over £50. (although quick as this runs out today)

2. Whistles (in store only, not concessions I believe) has 25% off with Grazia magazine. Either show the coupon in store, or if buying online, the code is "wh25ss13", so you don't even need to buy the magazine.

So, I bought the jumper in HOF (£40, saving of £25), and the skirt from Whistles (£82.50, saving of £27.50). I'm not pretending it's cheap as it still totaled £122.50, but much better than the £175 at full RRP!

Go to work (or bed) on an egg

I absolutely love eggs. Not only are they cheap, they're supremely tasty, and incredibly quick to cook. Some people seem to struggle with associations that they're a breakfast food only - but more often than not, I eat them for dinner after a long day at work, when I'm starving and desperate to have something nutritious for dinner.

Here's two egg-based recipes that I've made recently. Neither of them took longer than 15 minutes to make (from start to finish), although I have to confess and say that for the second recipe, I did already have roasted squash in the fridge.

Baked egg souffle-type dish. Recipe here (scroll down the page a bit!). I added smoked salmon underneath the egg too.

Nigel Slater's spiced squash and fried egg. As you can probably tell, the picture is not mine! Recipe here. I roasted the squash in advance though and then just reheated in a frying pan with the spices.

The second recipe as well has the benefit of being suitable for the 5:2 diet - use low-cal spray to fry the butternut squash, and add a couple of sprays when roasting too. (or steam as per the recipe and no need for oil). You could serve with a green salad on the side or some steamed broccoli if you're still hungry.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013


Sorry for another post without photos. I have lamented the poor quality of photos from my blackberry before, but this time it's just that I don't know what to photograph. I suppose blogs with photos are more readable, but I suppose I'm writing this more for me than for anyone else. (And maybe for my Mum to read as well).

Anyway, the purpose of this post was to give an update on the 5:2 diet. It was a great success in January, less so over the past few weeks as I've been busy, it's been super cold, and critical eating events (like Valentines, ha!) have cropped up. Still, I've managed to maintain a weight loss of about 8 lbs, give or take. I suppose the reason I haven't lost more is two fold:

1. I don't actually need to lose weight. I'm probably a comfortable size 8 now (rather than an 8 - 10 as previously)
2. My calorie restriction willpower wavers in the evening. I can happily skip breakfast and have a small lunch, and then a healthy dinner. But then I got the munchies and need sugar and end up eating minstrels or snickers or something.

I know 2. is probably psychological and that if I was truly hungry, an apple or plum would be equally as satiating as a chocolate bar. But, referring back to 1., this reduces my willpower to resist as I guess I don't care enough.

So in conclusion, I suppose the diet has definitely been a success. I'm going to half-kind-of keep it up (two days week try and eat light meals and fewer < 1,000 calories) to help maintain the weight loss, but not going to go out on a limb to eat 500 calories. I didn't really have a strict goal in mind when I started the diet, so I can't really measure success against that, although I am much happier with my body now. So that's definitely success by some measure!