Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Weekend Getaway: Paracas

I can't believe it's taken me a month to get to this blog post! Our stuff arrives Friday and Jack starts school next week - after that, I hope to get into a much more regular blogging routine.

Anyway, we took the advice of some friends here and escaped to nearby Paracas for a three-day weekend last month. It is worth noting that there aren't a ton of places to visit for long weekends outside of Lima. Paracas is a 3-4 hour drive, which is about as far away as I want to venture with small kids for a shorter vacation. Most other trips will require flying, unfortunately. The drive south to Paracas, though along the coastline, is not scenic. I was really grateful for a glimpse into what it's like outside of Lima, however. Up until then, I hadn't seen how many Peruvians live. The desert is dotted with small towns consisting of single-room cement or wooden homes, a stark contrast to most of Lima. Another thing worth noting: we were pulled over for not having our headlights on. We were let off because of John's diplomatic status, but tourists, take heed!

A relatively nice home we passed on the drive.

Pisco. That black smudge on the horizon is a massive flock of birds.

The worst part of the drive was through a town called Chincha. Traffic was horrendous on Saturday morning, and we were routed off the main drag onto a dirt road full of massive potholes, pregnant dogs, and mototaxis (motorcycle-taxi hybrids that zig and zag all over the place). Fortunately on Monday the traffic was much lighter and we got back almost an hour faster.

We stayed at the Double Tree in Paracas. It wasn't that much to look at from the front, and the day started out gray and gloomy. John and I were beginning to question the whole thing (especially when they charged us an additional $40 a night for Jack; $200 a night for a hotel in the middle of nowhere seemed excessive, although the included breakfast was nice).

But once we got outside and the sun came out, things got a lot better.

There's a separate kid pool, but alas, the hot tub is off limits for littles.

I'm not much of a swimmer, so I lounged poolside while the boys played. The pools aren't heated so it was a bit chilly; fortunately, the kids never seemed bothered by it.

The kiddy pool

There is a kids club at the hotel as well, but Will was too young and Jack wasn't interested. It's the kind of thing we'd probably do if Jack had a friend along, but I knew he wouldn't be comfortable with Spanish-speaking counselors, and the trip was so short we didn't care. But good to know for older kids, definitely!

Bowling for babies

The jacuzzi-side bar. Jack took this photo while John and I drank our complimentary pisco sours.

The hotel has a very nice restaurant, which is sort of the only dining option. Unfortunately it doesn't open until 7 for dinner, which is too late for my kids (who go to bed around 7:30 - Jack could have done it but Will would not have made a pleasant dinner companion). We ate room service both nights and enjoyed the food. The charge was small - something like $2.50 I think.

The beach at the hotel is small but nice. The water - well, it's not really for swimming - but it makes for a lovely view. Will enjoyed eating sand while Jack and I hunted for shells.

If you've got the time, you can drive from Paracas to the Nazca lines and take a flight over them. Other than that, the other nearby attraction is the desert. There's a giant national preserve nearby and John and I were amazed that we could just walk wherever we wanted and hunt for fossils. We didn't take any, of course, but it was sure fun to look.

Fossil shells in the desert

Further into the park is a remarkable beach. We were all getting tired by that point but if you didn't have kids to chase, you could spend a long time just watching the waves.

A couple side notes: people like to grab towels before breakfast, throw them on a lounge chair, and then disappear for three or four hours. Then they get mad if you take their chairs. I find this ridiculous and obnoxious, but it's something you might want to keep in mind if you go. Most of the people there were wealthy Peruvians or expats. The Peruvian families have a nanny for each child! I was in awe, and a little jealous. This was a fun trip, but not exactly relaxing since our kids are little and need near-constant supervision (especially Will). Fortunately the rooms are large - the kids slept in the living room and we slept in the bedroom. We brought a pack n' play for Will and there was a pull-out for Jack.

Um hi, can we borrow one of your nannies for a bit?

All in all, it was a fun trip but not something I'd do more than once or twice a year. It was nice to get out of the city, but we have so much to see in our two years here. Most importantly, we had some great family time, and that alone was worth the trip.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Cool Neighborhood: Barranco

I'm still getting my bearings here in Lima, and fortunately I've made some new friends who have been kind enough to show me around. I've been to Barranco twice in the last couple of weeks and it's my favorite neighborhood so far. Full of old Colonial architecture and beautiful graffiti, it has a cool hipster vibe to it I haven't seen here in Lima yet. (And please pardon my terrible photography - I took these on the fly.)

Two weeks ago we went to lunch with an awesome couple and their little boy. They introduced us to what may be my favorite restaurant in Lima so far: La 73. It's just a small restaurant with an almost diner-y atmosphere, but it had a wide menu featuring Peruvian, Italian, and even American cuisine. I'm told the hamburgers are delicious, and the fish sandwich looked really good. I had mushroom ravioli that were light but still filling (I got a second meal out of it). The choclo (that fabulous giant corn) con queso (in this case, melting cheese curds among the corn AND fried cheese on top) was amazing. John and Jack had - you guessed it - octopus!

Once again I chose to forego the tentacles and stuck to my carbs. Yum. But the highlight of the meal was dessert. The churros were RIDICULOUS. An entire pile of caramel-filled, sugar-dusted fried dough with melted chocolate for dipping. I'd go back for those alone.

Afterward we played at a park across the street. It was a Sunday afternoon and families were out together enjoying the sunshine.

Once the boys had their fill, we walked to the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo, which is just a couple of blocks away. We didn't go in the museum since we had the kids with us, but the grounds there are just beautiful. The shop was also excellent - I definitely need to go back! And yes, I'll go in the museum next time too.

On Tuesday another friend took me to her favorite restaurant in Barranco, La Bodega Verde. The place is adorable - it reminded me of some of the cute cafes in San Diego. Not only did the waiter speak English (not necessary, but always welcome) but they had crayons for Jack, which was good because I'd left mine in the car. 

We walked around a little and stopped in a cool coffee shop. I didn't get anything because I was stuffed full of quinoa pancakes, corn soup, and avocado with warm baguette, but I bought John some very fresh local coffee beans. It was a lovely day - warm and clear. The view from the pedestrian bridge was gorgeous.

I can't wait to go back and explore more of this fun neighborhood!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Saturday Outing: Bioferia in La Molina

Today we headed to the local farmers market, or bioferia, here in La Molina. It's held every Saturday morning at the Parque de los Ninos (or the Parque Infantil del Corregidor - I've heard both used). The park is great in and of itself - a giant playground (3 stories tall) for the 5 and over crowd, plus a smaller one for toddlers and an even tinier one for crawlers. There's a giant tunnel slide on a hill that both boys enjoyed, plus miniature golf and a couple of small rides.

John went to the farmers market with a friend not long after we arrived in Lima, but this was my first time. I was so impressed with how organized it was, and the quality of the produce and other products was amazing. I guess I'd imagined some horribly overcrowded square with a lot of haggling and potential pick-pockets, but this was a clean, relatively quiet gathering of local vendors and residents.

While John perused the fresh produce, local honey, native grains, and giant bars of Peruvian chocolate, I took the boys over to one of the blow-up slides that abound here. It cost 4 soles (or roughly $1.30) for ten or fifteen minutes of play time.

When John was finished, I got a chance to walk around a bit and check out the non-food wares, including goats milk soap, wooden toys, hand-knit items, and organic baby clothes. I didn't purchase anything but the prices seemed reasonable.

Afterward we purchased some hot food for lunch. We ate it all before I thought to take a picture, but John found a gluten-free spinach pie, Jack ate a yucca ball stuffed with veggies, and I had a cross between pizza and quiche. All were delicious and accompanied by a side of quinoa. 

Overall this was a fun, low-key way to spend a Saturday morning just fifteen minutes from our house. I highly recommend it!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Restaurant Review: Nanka

One of our biggest gripes about living in the 'burbs is that we're so far from all of the culinary delights Lima has to offer. This city is considered one of the top foodie destinations in the world, and we really want to take advantage of that. So when several people mentioned a restaurant right here in La Molina, Nanka, we knew we had to check it out. John's birthday was the perfect excuse for a date night.

Nanka features organic Peruvian cuisine. The atmosphere is upscale but not fancy. It was almost empty when we went on a Tuesday night, but our waiter said they have live music on Wednesdays (which means we will never go on a Wednesday; I hate it when I can't have a conversation over a meal) so maybe that draws a crowd. The space is huge and I can imagine it would get very loud on a busy night, but it was nice and quiet for us.

John and I each ordered a drink to start. I had a glass of okay prosecco and John went for the purple-corn beer. He seemed to enjoy it.

The menu at Nanka is HUGE. Pages upon pages, and our food Spanish isn't great, so I was very grateful for the English menu (John forged ahead with the Spanish version but I ended up having to read most of the English menu to him). Vegetarians, diabetics, and anti-glutenites will all find something here, and helpfully labeled to boot.

For appetizers, we tried the potato and yucca balls coated in crispy quinoa and the shrimp spring rolls. The balls were a little bland, even with the two dipping sauces provided. But the spring rolls were amazing. I could have eaten a dozen of those suckers.

We were a little overwhelmed by the menu, so we ended up going with a couple of fairly familiar dishes. John is apparently on a quest to try octopus at as many Peruvian restaurants as possible, so he ordered it once again. I'm not a huge fan of the "toss a massive tentacle on a plate" approach that seems so popular here, but John consumed all of his dinner so it must have been pretty tasty.

My green gnocchi with broad beans, mushrooms, and goat cheese were good, although I found the aji amarillo a little overpowering. It's not a strong flavor per se, but it's very distinct, and it feels like it's in everything here. I like it, but I was hoping for something a little different.

For dessert, John ordered this amazing gluten-free chocolate roll thing. I had the Peruvian version of a mille feuille, with little triangles of flan wedged between the puff pastry layers. Both were very tasty.

The most amazing part of the meal, however, was probably the price. All that food, including our drinks, came to about $80. The affordability of good Peruvian cuisine is awesome, because it means we can keep on trying all the wonderful restaurants here in Lima.