The Slow Road https://theslowroad.org/wp Two Women Wandering The World Mon, 11 Feb 2019 02:46:56 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.1.1 67967049 Livable Cuenca https://theslowroad.org/wp/blog/livable-cuenca/ Mon, 11 Feb 2019 02:43:04 +0000 http://theslowroad.org/wp/?p=26216 Cuenca, in the highlands of south-central Ecuador, is the country’s third-largest city, with about 400,000 residents. It has a reputation for being a charming colonial-era city, built on the site of an Inca settlement—and before that a town of the indigenous Canari people—in a broad mountain valley where four small rivers come together. Cuenca isn’t […]]]>

Cuenca, in the highlands of south-central Ecuador, is the country’s third-largest city, with about 400,000 residents. It has a reputation for being a charming colonial-era city, built on the site of an Inca settlement—and before that a town of the indigenous Canari people—in a broad mountain valley where four small rivers come together.

Cuenca isn’t a fixture on the backpacker trail, except perhaps as a stop for people traveling overland south to Peru. But the city is popular with North American retirees, who have moved here by the thousands. They’re drawn by Cuenca’s mild climate, good infrastructure (including drinkable tap water!), and low cost of living.

The city wasn’t as pretty as I was expecting (it’s a listed World Heritage Site), and the museums, though mildly interesting, were underwhelming. But Cuenca was walkable and a good place for observing everyday Ecuadoran life—in plazas and markets, outside churches, in parks and small neighborhood restaurants with no names. Indigenous women here wear distinctive local dress, characterized by brightly colored, knee-length, pleated velvet skirts and wool shawls with embroidered hems and fedora hats.

An indigenous family outside the cathedral

Speaking of hats, this part of southern Ecuador is the birthplace of the white straw hats mistakenly called Panama hats. (They got their name when the Spanish exported them through Panama in colonial times.) We visited several hat shops, including one small factory with metal hat presses imported from North America and Europe. The most finely woven hats there can be rolled up to the circumference of a  quarter and cost hundreds of dollars. But we didn’t find any that we really needed.

Hat presses in a small factory

A combination of rainy weather and recurring intestinal problems kept us from visiting two of the most interesting sites outside Cuenca: Cajas National Park, home to mountains covered in cloud forest and hundreds of lakes, and the ruins of a joint Canari-Inca city at Ingapirca. We’ll have to save those for another trip.

But we had a pleasant time in Cuenca, staying in a comfortable apartment, enjoying international food for a change (German, Thai, and NYC pizza), strolling along the burbling little river near our apartment, and watching daily life unfold in the parks and plazas and coffee shops nearby.

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Chilling at Cotopaxi https://theslowroad.org/wp/blog/chilling-at-cotopaxi/ Tue, 05 Feb 2019 22:03:01 +0000 http://theslowroad.org/wp/?p=26171 Ecuador is a land of volcanoes. When we left Quito, we headed for the country’s most famous volcano: a perfect cone-shaped, snow-capped peak called Cotopaxi. Our base near Cotopaxi was the wonderful Secret Garden hostel, a friendly, laid-back place full of international travelers. There, you can get room, board, and a volcano view for every […]]]>

Ecuador is a land of volcanoes. When we left Quito, we headed for the country’s most famous volcano: a perfect cone-shaped, snow-capped peak called Cotopaxi. Our base near Cotopaxi was the wonderful Secret Garden hostel, a friendly, laid-back place full of international travelers. There, you can get room, board, and a volcano view for every budget: from $40 for a bunkbed in a cheery yellow dorm, to $100 for a private hobbit-hole bedroom with a round door set into a hillside, to $200 for your own house high on the hill. The hostel organizes transport from Quito and lots of activities in Cotopaxi National Park, including the chance to hike to the 5,900-meter (19,000-foot) summit of the volcano for hearty souls not phased by extreme altitude and ice axes.

The water was far too cold for us, but not for everyone!

We’re not such hardy souls. Other than a walk to a waterfall behind the hostel, we didn’t do much uphill hiking around Cotopaxi. The hostel is at 11,400 feet, which was high enough for us.

Instead, we took a guided horseback ride through the national park. The wind was cold, and bouncing on hard saddles for several hours was painful (at least for Chris, whose padding is in all the wrong places for riding). But the scenery was breathtaking—moonscapes of rocks and ash strewn by former eruptions, high rolling plains (called paramo) with hardly a tree in sight, tufts of billowy grass, clear streams, small colorful flowers, and of course the volcano itself.

The park is home to large herds of wild horses, which were beautiful to see running across the plains. We also spotted one cow grazing among the horses. We like to think it escaped from one of the nearby farms and headed to the park to live a free and wild life.

A single black cow (in the center) among the wild horses

Another day we visited a lake near the base of Cotopaxi and saw all kinds of water birds (gulls, teals, coots, and sandpipers) unique to the Andes. While walking on the trail around the lake, we had a chance encounter with a large Andean fox, which had presumably come to the water for a drink. It and Melissa surprised each other on the path, both looking startled for a few moments before the fox ran off into the grass. Between that and the condors we saw near Quito, we’ve been lucky with our wildlife viewing in the Ecuadorean Andes.

The area around Cotopaxi National Park is farmed with dairy cattle and potato fields. Away from the volcano, it’s a landscape of rolling green fields and jagged brown peaks. At the Secret Garden hostel, the landscape also includes grazing llamas, pretty flower gardens, and giant hammock-like nets where guests can hang out and gaze at all of that.

The hostel has no wifi or cell phone reception, so people have to rely on each other for company. A favorite pastime after dinner is gathering by the hammock nets to watch the sun set over the mountains and the stars come out. I haven’t seen such clears night skies for ages. Orion, Taurus, and the Pleiades were the only constellations I recognized; the rest are Southern-Hemisphere constellations I don’t know.

Every day, new guests would arrive at the hostel, so there were lots of interesting people to talk to and share travel stories with. That made a nice change after interacting only with each other during our long stay in Quito. But after three days at Secret Garden, we were ready to climb back into our introvert shells for a little while. And we were eager to see what lay farther down the road in Ecuador.

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South of the Border, Down Ecuador Way https://theslowroad.org/wp/blog/south-of-the-border-down-ecuador-way/ Fri, 01 Feb 2019 23:10:52 +0000 http://theslowroad.org/wp/?p=26111 A quick flight from Bogota to Quito, the capital of Ecuador, and we were well and truly in the Southern Hemisphere. Quito is a big city (population 2.6 million), sprawling from north to south along a wide valley. It’s also a high city, at an altitude of 2,850 m (9,350 feet). We stayed in a […]]]>

A quick flight from Bogota to Quito, the capital of Ecuador, and we were well and truly in the Southern Hemisphere. Quito is a big city (population 2.6 million), sprawling from north to south along a wide valley. It’s also a high city, at an altitude of 2,850 m (9,350 feet). We stayed in a series of AirBnB apartments in modern, high-rise buildings in the northern part of the city, first in the business and shopping district of Benalcazar and then in the funky residential and restaurant district of La Floresta. We found taxis to be cheap, safe, and plentiful in Quito, so it was easy to travel south to the historic colonial center of the city, full of lively plazas and old churches, some of them lavishly decorated.

We didn’t plan to spend 19 days in Quito, but we lost the first 10 or so days to feeling rotten. At first we thought it was just the effects of altitude, but when that didn’t wear off after a few days, we realized that we both had intestinal issues (one of the hazards of foreign travel). Once we’d knocked those out with antibiotics, we finally felt up to sightseeing.

We took a hop-on/hop-off bus around the city on a rainy day to get our bearings. Later, we walked around the historic district, people-watching on a Sunday when streets were blocked off and full of vendor’s stalls and musicians. Quito is home to many people who’ve come from elsewhere in Ecuador, so it was the first time we saw indigenous-looking Andean women in their typical dress: felt fedora hats, wool shawls, and wide pleated skirts.

A picture (shot through a bus window on a rainy day) of indigenous Andean women, with their distinctive hats, selling fruit

We visited some museum exhibitions about the history of Quito and Ecuador, the country’s ethnic groups and traditional crafts, daily life in a convent in the colonial period, and modern Ecuadoran art. They were mildly interesting but not fantastic.

A pre-Columbian gold sun mask on display in the national museum

On a clear day, we rode the TeleferiQo cable car up Pichincha, a green volcano that towers over Quito.  The cable car is one of the highest in the world. But unlike cable cars in the Alps, which are supported on tall pylons, the TeleferiQo travels close to the ground because Pichincha doesn’t get much snow. The view over the sprawling city was beautiful, although the short uphill trudge from the cable car station to the viewpoint (at more than 13,000 feet) left us breathless.

I had an amazing stroke of luck on the mountain: When I got out of the cable car, I saw two large buzzardy-looking raptors circling high overhead. I got a good look at one in my binoculars, and from the markings, I was able to identify it later as a male Andean condor—Ecuador’s national bird and the largest flying bird in the world! Surveys suggest that there are only about 100 condors left in Ecuador, so it was amazing that I got to see two of them so easily.

View from our apartment in Quito of Pichincha mountain

Our last apartment in Quito had a wonderful view of Pichincha from the living room. So as we worked on editing projects, we could watch the changing light and clouds on the mountain throughout the day. (It reminded us of mountain-watching from our summer housesit in Switzerland.)

A hot-spring pool at the Terrmas hotel in Papallacta in the mountains east of Quito

To celebrate feeling better, we treated ourselves to a special getaway: a night at the Termas de Papallacta, a hotel built over hot springs in the mountains a couple of hours east of Quito. The hotel grounds are dotted with outdoor warm-water pools of varying temperatures (from tepid bathtub to “feels like you could cook a lobster”), which they achieve by mixing the hot spring water with cold water from a nearby stream in different proportions. Some of the pools have whirlpool-type jets or stone lounging beds built right in. Lying in the water on a misty afternoon, surrounded by beautiful flowers and hummingbirds, watching clouds roll down the green mountains all around us was wonderfully relaxing. So much so that the three hours of sloggy bus and taxi rides it took to get there were totally worth it for a few hours of supreme relaxation.

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Eating in Colombia https://theslowroad.org/wp/blog/eating-in-colombia/ Thu, 24 Jan 2019 02:57:57 +0000 http://theslowroad.org/wp/?p=26037 Our final post about Colombia focuses on one of our favorite parts of travel: food. In that sphere, Colombia was both a hit and a miss. Most of the Colombian food that we encountered was fairly mild, lacking in seasoning, and heavy on starches. Grilled or roasted meat was typically served dry, without sauces, and […]]]>

Our final post about Colombia focuses on one of our favorite parts of travel: food. In that sphere, Colombia was both a hit and a miss.

Most of the Colombian food that we encountered was fairly mild, lacking in seasoning, and heavy on starches. Grilled or roasted meat was typically served dry, without sauces, and accompanied by plain white rice, boiled or fried potatoes, or fried plantains—sometimes all three. On the Caribbean coast, rice is cooked with toasted coconut, which makes it much tastier. And in some places, deep-fried plantains are filled with cheese and guava paste (an acquired taste).

An exception to the sauceless-meat trend is trucha (rainbow trout), a popular delicacy. In areas near trout streams or trout farms, it’s not uncommon to find restaurants that offer trout served 20 different ways (and not much else). The fish is more reddish than trout at home and is generally very good.

Every meal in Colombia comes with at least one arepa—a flat, cardboard-like fried cake made from a type of cornmeal that manages to have much less corn flavor or salt than the masa used to make tortillas in Mexico or Central America. Occasionally, we found big puffy arepas, which we liked better, except that they were almost always slathered with margarine (an abomination). On one of our last nights in Colombia, we tried an arepa de chocolo, which has nothing to do with chocolate but instead is made from sweet corn and filled with cheese. It was great, and we wished we had discovered it earlier.

Other traditional foods include thick chicken, potato, and corn soups and tamale-like dishes of rice, cornmeal, or cassava meal mixed with meat and root vegetables and steamed in banana leaves to keep them moist. They’re all hearty and filling—traditional lunches for hard-working people. If only they included some seasoning.

Fruit is wonderful in Colombia. There are so many varieties available at one time, many of which are turned into fresh juices—lime, orange, papaya, pineapple, watermelon, guanabana (a big spiky green fruit with a mild white flesh), lulo (a small citrusy fruit that Melissa loved), and maracuya (my favorite, passion fruit). Juice isn’t just a breakfast drink. Corner fruit stands serve fresh juices all through the day, mixed with either water or milk. And it’s common to see Colombians having a glass of juice with their lunch or dinner—even in upscale restaurants where they’re also drinking wine.

Our hosts in Jardin introduced us to a new fruit: granadilla, a yellow-orange egg-shaped fruit with a thing hard shell. Inside, it’s filled with a slippery mixture of pulp and seeds that you suck right out of the fruit and swallow, preferably without chewing. It has a mixed sweet and sour flavor that Melissa is very fond of.

And speaking of fruit, fresh avocado is everywhere. In a typical lunch or dinner, it may be the only green thing on the plate.

Hamburgers seem to be very trendy right now in Colombia, with hamburger stands popping up all over the place, and French fries are a mainstay in even upscale restaurants. Despite that, the most common U.S. fast-food chains we saw in Colombia were Subway and Dunkin Donuts rather than hamburger places like McDonald’s.

Colombia is a dairy country, but I found the cheese rubbery and lacking in any strong flavor. (I think it suffered by comparison to the diverse and glorious cheeses of Switzerland that we ate so much of last summer). That lack of flavor may be one reason that Colombians often dip chunks of cheese in hot chocolate or in sugar cane juice dissolved in hot water. Yogurt is widely available, but it’s very thin (the texture for drinking or pouring on cereal) and very, very sweet.

In fact, super sweetness seems to be a hallmark of many Colombian foods and drinks: sodas, juices, baked goods, yogurt, even breakfast cereal. (The Colombian versions of Special K and Cheerios are sugar-coated, unlike the U.S. versions.) The ultimate Colombian sweet is arequipe, a thick dulce de leche (caramel) paste. The idea seems to be that every baked good, including donuts, is better oozing with arequipe. Sidewalk stands sell obleas, pairs of large round wafers with arequipe (and sometimes chocolate or blackberry jam) inside, for a Colombian version of a Dutch stroopwafel. They taste a bit like styrofoam on the outside, but they’re delicious in the middle.

Colombia is also full of bakeries featuring various puffy bread rolls made from wheat or cassava flour that local people adore, but that we couldn’t get excited about. Melissa’s and my taste in breads and other baked goods tends firmly toward the northern European (French pastries and dense German bread), so we just weren’t in the right country for bread products. But the fresh fruit on every corner and fruit juices at every meal more than made up for that.

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Jardin and Manizales: Our Final Stops in Colombia https://theslowroad.org/wp/blog/jardin-and-manizales-our-final-stops-in-colombia/ https://theslowroad.org/wp/blog/jardin-and-manizales-our-final-stops-in-colombia/#comments Mon, 21 Jan 2019 04:34:03 +0000 http://theslowroad.org/wp/?p=26029 Our last stops in Colombia were the small town of Jardin (pronounced “hardeen”) and the mid-size city of Manizales, both in the mountains of Colombia’s central coffee-growing region. Jardin was a vibrant place during Christmas week. Each day, its cafes and plazas filled up with more residents’ relatives visiting for the holiday (some from as […]]]>

Our last stops in Colombia were the small town of Jardin (pronounced “hardeen”) and the mid-size city of Manizales, both in the mountains of Colombia’s central coffee-growing region. Jardin was a vibrant place during Christmas week. Each day, its cafes and plazas filled up with more residents’ relatives visiting for the holiday (some from as far as the United States and Canada), including the lovely family we rented a room from. Besides meeting lots of friendly people, highlights in Jardin included horseback riding, birdwatching, and paragliding high above the town. One of the most wonderful aspects of town was how locals rode their horses into town on some nights to have a drink, talk to friends, and show off their lovely horses and their unique “paso fino” gait to each other and the tourists. Alas, I never managed to get any pictures of them. We had a much quieter New Year’s week in Manizales, focusing on work, with occasional outings to see some of the city’s mountain views and surprising modern sculptures.

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Impressions of Colombia https://theslowroad.org/wp/blog/impressions-of-colombia/ Tue, 15 Jan 2019 17:53:26 +0000 http://theslowroad.org/wp/?p=25974 It’s impossible to get a complete sense of a country in a month. But here are some impressions we formed while traveling in Colombia, in the upper northwest corner of South America: Colombia is really big: You could fit California and Texas inside it and still have room for New Jersey. Apart from a week […]]]>

It’s impossible to get a complete sense of a country in a month. But here are some impressions we formed while traveling in Colombia, in the upper northwest corner of South America:

  • Colombia is really big: You could fit California and Texas inside it and still have room for New Jersey. Apart from a week on the Caribbean coast, we spent our time in the west-central part of the country, in a triangle formed by the cities of Bogota and Medellin and the town of Armenia. It looks like a fairly small area on the map, but distances are deceptive. It takes a long time to get between towns here.
  • We’re at the northern end of the Andes, the mountain range that runs like a spine down almost the entire western edge of South America. The mountains here are much taller than I’d expected, topping 17,000 feet—higher than anything in the continental United States. Surprisingly (for someone used to the Alps or the Rockies), most of the mountains are green all the way to the top, covered in thick forest. The scenery is often stunning.
  • Colombia sits just north of the Equator (the capital, Bogota, is at about 5 degrees north latitude). This close to the middle of the planet, the days and nights stay nearly the same length all year. The sun rises about 6 a.m. and sets about 6 p.m. So we’ve had some strange experiences for people from the mid-Atlantic United States, such as having it stay light past 6 o’clock in late December or sweltering in summer-like temperatures (on the Caribbean coast) while eating dinner in the dark.
  • Colombia is much more economically developed than I’d expected. I was imagining something akin to the poorest places we’ve visited: Guatemala, Honduras, Cambodia, and Laos. We’ve seen pockets of rural and urban poverty here, but on the whole, Colombians seem better dressed, fed, and housed than their counterparts in those countries. Colombia has modern cities with skyscrapers, organized bus networks with fixed prices and schedules, and small towns where the tap water is clean enough to drink. Recycling facilities are widespread, and I scarcely ever saw a motorbike passenger without a helmet (even children).
  • One thing that must be hindering Colombia’s economy is the awful state of its roads, which slows transport to a crawl. Geography doesn’t help: The 500-mile-long central mountain range has no passes below 10,000 feet, and the volcanic mountains are too geologically unstable for tunneling. So highways between major cities zigzag up and down steep slopes, with trucks and buses creeping along at 10 miles an hour. Most of the main roads are only two lanes wide, and road work frequently reduces them to one lane, requiring stops of 20 to 30 minutes as traffic alternates between the single available lane. As a result, on a bus trip from the town of Chinchina to the city of Medellin, it took us more than 8 hours to go 114 miles.  
  • The large-scale drug trafficking that plagued Colombia in the 1980s and 1990s has moved north (to parts of Mexico and Central America), and the FARC guerrillas who terrorized the countryside for years have made peace (and in some cases, gone into politics). As a result, Colombia is a much safer place than it was a few decades ago. Many Colombians who fled overseas are moving home, city dwellers are happily visiting rural areas that were off-limits for years because of guerrilla activity, and the country is attracting a growing number of international tourists as word of its beauty spreads.
  • Still, the events of Colombia’s dark years remain close under the surface. A family who hosted us shared the harrowing story of two family members who were kidnapped by guerrillas in 2000 and held in jungle camps for several weeks. One escaped and the other was ransomed, and both are now leading safe and apparently happy lives. But the experience was still vivid for everyone in the family.
  • The majority of Colombians we interacted with were very kind and open. They were interested to know why we chose to visit their country and showed obvious pride that Colombia—once a byword for drugs and danger—was now drawing tourists from all over the world.
  • During our first few weeks, almost every time Colombians said they had relatives in the United States or had lived there themselves and we asked where, the answer was New Jersey. Later we met Colombians with connections to Miami, Chattanooga (hometown of Melissa’s mother), and Canada. But for a while, it seemed like all of the Colombian expats in America must be centered around Morristown, New Jersey. People were pleased to hear that AJ was from New Jersey too, allowing them to forge a small connection with a visitor from far away.
  • Thank goodness for the few Colombians we met who spoke some English, because people’s Spanish was harder to understand than I’d expected. Several things we read before we left emphasized what clear Spanish Colombians speak, which may have lulled me into thinking I didn’t need to work too hard on my rusty Spanish before the trip. That was a mistake. Between thick Afro-Caribbean accents on the coast and pronunciations elsewhere that we weren’t used to (double l pronounced as j), I struggled a lot with understanding and communicating. Things got a bit better when I learned to start conversations with “Lo siento, no hablo mucho Espanol” (I’m sorry, I don’t speak much Spanish) rather than just letting people babble away at me while I looked blankly back at them.
  • When Melissa and I visited Mexico, we joked that every song we heard had the word corazon (heart) in it somewhere. In Colombia, it seems like every song includes the word bailar (dance). Colombians apparently do like to dance. Even small towns boast a couple of self-styled “discos,” complete with mirror balls, although the music is more salsa than Bee Gees.
  • We were pleasantly surprised by how few Colombians smoke (especially after a summer in Europe, where smoking was rife). Many cafes, hotels, and other buildings have no-smoking zones in front of them, even for their outdoor terraces, so we could enjoy outdoor dining without ending up next to a table of smokers.
Outdoor cafes are much nicer when so few people smoke
  • From big cities to small towns, there was lots of environmental messaging around, such as signs about the importance of conserving water and power or protecting biodiversity. With only a few exceptions, there was much less trash around than in some other developed countries I’ve visited—yet another thing that Colombia seems to be doing right.
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From Colombia to Your Cup https://theslowroad.org/wp/blog/from-colombia-to-your-cup/ Fri, 11 Jan 2019 01:31:43 +0000 http://theslowroad.org/wp/?p=25940 The thing our friend AJ was most excited to see in Colombia was coffee fields. As the former owner of a coffeehouse, AJ knows all about how to turn roasted beans into a great cup of coffee. But she knew less about what happens to those beans before they get to the United States.  To […]]]>

The thing our friend AJ was most excited to see in Colombia was coffee fields. As the former owner of a coffeehouse, AJ knows all about how to turn roasted beans into a great cup of coffee. But she knew less about what happens to those beans before they get to the United States. 

To learn, we spent two nights at Hacienda Guayabal, a three-generations-old coffee farm near the town of Chinchina. There, a terrific English-speaking guide took us step by step through the coffee production process, from bush to cup.

Colombia is the world’s third-largest coffee producer, after Brazil and Vietnam. It has a reputation for growing exceptionally high-quality beans, most of which are exported to the United States, Europe, and Japan. Coffee is a huge part of Colombian culture. Colombians drink it throughout the day, traditionally in the form of a very low-quality, strong, sweet, black coffee known as tinto (often sold out of a big thermos by a street vendor). Better-quality coffee is starting to become more popular with wealthier Colombians, but the best-quality beans are still generally exported.

Do you remember ads on U.S. television featuring Juan Valdez, the mustachioed Colombian farmer leading his mule through the coffee fields? Juan is a big deal here. He was invented by Colombia’s National Federation of Coffee Growers in the late 1950s and helped cement the country’s global reputation as a producer of fine coffee. His image appears on the federation’s signs and in its nationwide chain of Juan Valdez coffee shops, which are Colombia’s equivalent of Starbucks. 

Coffee in Colombia is grown on steep hillsides, mostly on small, family-owned farms (about 500,000 in all). Virtually all of them produce arabica coffee beans, which tend to be milder, less bitter, and lower in caffeine than the other main species of coffee, robusta. Colombia’s geography is considered ideal for growing Arabica coffee, with high altitudes near the equator, mild temperatures, volcanic soil, regular rain, and no frost. Another thing that distinguishes Colombian coffee is that it is picked entirely by hand, rather than by machine, so it contains a much higher percentage of fully ripe beans. 

As we learned at Hacienda Guayabal, there are 10 main steps in producing Colombian coffee, all of which are very labor intensive:

1) Coffee plants are started in nurseries from beans; when the seedlings get big enough, they are planted on hillsides 1 meter (about 3 feet) apart. That spacing ensures that pickers always have room to move between the rows of trees. Plants don’t start producing coffee beans for another two years. During that time, they are shaded by taller plants, such as banana or palm trees (which are sometimes cut down for convenience once the coffee plants start producing beans).

2) Coffee plants produce beans for five years and then are cut back to regrow for two years. After three of those seven-year cycles, the plants are uprooted and replaced with new seedlings. 

3) Coffee cherries—the fruit surrounding the beans—are harvested twice a year by pickers who try to select only cherries that have ripened to red or yellow. A good picker can pick 100 to 200 pounds of fruit per day (they’re paid by the pound, though we didn’t find out how much). Women are considered better pickers than men, so they tend to earn more. At Hacienda Guayabal, the pickers are seasonal laborers who live in cottages scattered among the fields and who move between Colombia’s different coffee-growing regions every few months. The work is arduous, lasting from daybreak until about 5 p.m., taking place on steep slopes, often in the rain. 

4) The day’s pickings are dumped into a giant trough and then sent through a machine that removes the outer shell and fruit around the bean. (These are saved and composted for use as a really smelly fertilizer.)

5) The deshelled cherries are soaked in water for 24 hours to remove the thin layer of mucus surrounding the beans, which also removes some of the caffeine. The beans are then separated by weight: The best-quality beans sink to the bottom, while beans that have had holes bored in them by pests are lighter and float on top.

6) After separating, the beans are dried—out in the sun (on small farms) or in ovens (as at Hacienda Guayabal). Drying preserves the beans, turning them from a gray-greenish color to a yellowish tan.

7) Dried beans are bagged and sent to the local branch of the National Federation of Colombian Coffee Growers, a nonprofit trade association that buys and sells almost all of Colombia’s coffee. The federation ensures export standards for Colombian coffee, creates and maintains infrastructure, and sponsors research. It also runs a tracking system so that importers can trace beans to the individual farm where they were grown. 

8) At the federation’s plant, beans go through a machine that removes their papery husks (like the ones around peanuts or almonds). The husks from Hacienda Guayabal’s beans are sent back to the farm, which uses them to fuel its drying ovens. 

9) The dehusked beans are graded by color and size according to an elaborate classification system that the federation uses to ensure the quality and consistency of different grades of Colombian beans.

10) Unroasted (green) beans are shipped to roasters, usually overseas. Different roasts—light, medium, and dark—mean the bean was roasted at a lower or higher temperature. The amount of caffeine in the coffee declines as the roast gets darker. After that, the roasted beans go to all kinds of coffee sellers and then into your cup. 

As part of our coffee tour at Hacienda Guayabal, we got to spend some time picking coffee cherries in the fields. Melissa was declared to be a pretty good picker, so if this editing and photography stuff doesn’t work out for her, she has another career option available.

Our coffee education in Colombia wasn’t all serious business, though. We also spent a day at the Parque del Cafe, where we watched coffee-themed folk dances and rode everything from sedate carousels to vertiginous rollercoasters set among coffee-covered hillsides. In between rides, of course, we stopped for coffee and pastries at the inevitable Juan Valdez cafe. 

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Corcora Valley and Botanical Garden https://theslowroad.org/wp/blog/corcora-valley-and-botanical-garden/ https://theslowroad.org/wp/blog/corcora-valley-and-botanical-garden/#comments Fri, 04 Jan 2019 04:04:19 +0000 http://theslowroad.org/wp/?p=25869 Colombia’s central Andean region is an area of amazing natural beauty. From our base in Filandia, we took day trips to two places that showcased that beauty. In the Val de Corcora, we went horseback riding among the world’s tallest palm trees: the endangered wax palm, Colombia’s national tree. At the Quindio Botanical Garden, we […]]]>

Colombia’s central Andean region is an area of amazing natural beauty. From our base in Filandia, we took day trips to two places that showcased that beauty. In the Val de Corcora, we went horseback riding among the world’s tallest palm trees: the endangered wax palm, Colombia’s national tree. At the Quindio Botanical Garden, we walked through forests of native bamboo, admired brilliant tropical flowers, and got close-up views of hummingbirds and butterflies.

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Filandia: Colombia’s Most Colorful Town? https://theslowroad.org/wp/blog/filandia-colombias-most-colorful-town/ https://theslowroad.org/wp/blog/filandia-colombias-most-colorful-town/#comments Wed, 02 Jan 2019 22:25:32 +0000 http://theslowroad.org/wp/?p=25824 After leaving Bogota, our first base in the Andean region of west-central Colombia was the little town of Filandia (population 7,000), a prettier and more authentic alternative to the backpacker hotspot of Salento nearby. Filandia has plenty of shops and restaurants and small hotels, mainly to serve the coffee and cattle farmers in the surrounding […]]]>

After leaving Bogota, our first base in the Andean region of west-central Colombia was the little town of Filandia (population 7,000), a prettier and more authentic alternative to the backpacker hotspot of Salento nearby. Filandia has plenty of shops and restaurants and small hotels, mainly to serve the coffee and cattle farmers in the surrounding countryside who come into town by jeep or on horseback to shop and socialize. Filandia’s 7,000 residents seem to be in a competition to paint their balconied townhouses in the brightest possible colors, making this a beautiful place to stroll and take pictures.

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Christmas in Colombia https://theslowroad.org/wp/blog/christmas-in-colombia/ https://theslowroad.org/wp/blog/christmas-in-colombia/#comments Wed, 26 Dec 2018 02:28:35 +0000 http://theslowroad.org/wp/?p=25780 Surprisingly, this is only the second time that Melissa and I have been outside the United States at Christmas. The first time was in Penang, Malaysia—a mainly Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist island where Christmas celebrations were minimal. This year, in predominantly Catholic Colombia, Christmas themes are everywhere. So we’ve been missing our loved ones at […]]]>

Surprisingly, this is only the second time that Melissa and I have been outside the United States at Christmas. The first time was in Penang, Malaysia—a mainly Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist island where Christmas celebrations were minimal. This year, in predominantly Catholic Colombia, Christmas themes are everywhere. So we’ve been missing our loved ones at home a little extra this year.

In planning our trip, we wanted somewhere small and quiet to spend Christmas week, after AJ and Francesca flew back to the United States. We chose the little town of Jardin (pronounced “Hardeen”), a beautiful place surrounded by green hills a four-hour bus ride south of Medellin.

Little did we know, when we booked an AirBnB room for the first half of the week, that the room would be in the middle of a family’s apartment and that the size of the family would swell as relatives from Medellin arrived for the holidays. So we’ve had the good fortune to spend Christmas in a family home—complete with a big Christmas tree and a Christmas Eve dinner around the family table.

Our host, Paula, and some of her relatives speak English after years of living in the United States before returning to their native Colombia. As we’ve explored Jardin—walking around town, sitting in the cafes that ring the main square, taking horseback rides through the countryside around town—we’ve met other friendly English-speaking Colombians who spent time in the United States or Canada. Being able to communicate well has made us feel even more like part of the family and part of the town.

According to Paula, Christmas in Jardin is celebrated mainly on Christmas Eve, with a big dinner of tamales and then presents exchanged at midnight. Christmas Day is a quieter affair: Kids spill out into the streets in their new clothes, and families have picnics or take walks in the countryside. With daytime temperatures in the 70s and little rain this time of year, it’s easy to celebrate outdoors.

Throughout our travels in Colombia, we’ve seen Christmas decorations galore: from bright lights and elaborate nativity scenes in churches to scarf-wearing llamas giving rides to children in plazas. Many homes and businesses decorate their windows and balconies with lights and ornaments. I’m always amused to see images of snowmen and snowflakes in a place that never gets snow!

Here in Jardin, the preferred form of transport around town is little Southeast Asian-style tuk-tuks. One Christmas lover has decorated his tuk-tuk with a Santa and sleigh on the roof. It lights up at night, as he drives around town, for extra festivity.

Feliz Navidad (to all of you who celebrate Christmas) and a very happy 2019!

 

 

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Echoes of My Grandfather in Coffee Country https://theslowroad.org/wp/blog/echoes-of-my-grandfather-in-coffee-country/ Mon, 24 Dec 2018 17:11:30 +0000 http://theslowroad.org/wp/?p=25732 Whatever I expected from the small towns in Colombia’s coffee-growing valleys, it wasn’t to be reminded of my Grandpa Howlett on every street corner. According to family stories, at the beginning of World War II, my grandfather worked for an advertising agency, one of whose clients was a vehicle manufacturer named Willys-Overland Motors. At the […]]]>

Whatever I expected from the small towns in Colombia’s coffee-growing valleys, it wasn’t to be reminded of my Grandpa Howlett on every street corner.

According to family stories, at the beginning of World War II, my grandfather worked for an advertising agency, one of whose clients was a vehicle manufacturer named Willys-Overland Motors. At the time, Willys-Overland was trying to get a government contract to build jeeps for the U.S. military, and my grandfather was assigned to that effort. In a famous publicity stunt (which we like to think he helped organize), two members of Congress drove a Willys jeep up the steps of the Capitol to prove its capability. Willys got its contract and went on to build more than 300,000 jeeps for the military during the war.

The Willys company closed in the early 1960s, the Jeep name and design passed to other automakers, and my grandfather went on to other things. But the name Willys-Overland remained a piece of family lore.

So imagine my surprise in Colombia when I asked how to get from one mountain town to another and was told that I’d have to take a “Vilees.” It turns out that in Colombia’s coffee-growing regions, jeeps—many proudly bearing the Willys name—are the preferred mode of public transport on the rough, often unpaved roads between small towns.

A coffee-themed museum explained that the first 100 Willys jeeps came to Colombia in 1950, and they quickly proved popular on coffee and banana farms in areas with steep hills and rutted roads. A “yipao” (derived from the local pronunciation of jeep) became a unit of measure for coffee and bananas: the number of bags of coffee beans or bunches of bananas that can be carried in and on top of a jeep.

During World War II, an advertising slogan used by Willys-Overland (maybe coined by my grandfather?) was “the sun never sets on the mighty jeep.” In the mountains of central Colombia, that’s certainly true. I think my Grandpa Howlett would have been delighted to know that his wartime project had become an important part of local culture 75 years later and a continent away from the United States.

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What a Difference a Day Makes: Bogota https://theslowroad.org/wp/blog/what-a-difference-a-day-makes-bogota/ Sun, 23 Dec 2018 00:41:16 +0000 http://theslowroad.org/wp/?p=25722 On Isla Grande, as we lay in bed before getting up—trying to stay as cool as possible under a mosquito net and a rusty ceiling fan—we heard roosters crowing, dogs barking, the swish of a rake cleaning the sandy yard, and people calling out to each other as they walked or biked down the dirt […]]]>

On Isla Grande, as we lay in bed before getting up—trying to stay as cool as possible under a mosquito net and a rusty ceiling fan—we heard roosters crowing, dogs barking, the swish of a rake cleaning the sandy yard, and people calling out to each other as they walked or biked down the dirt paths.

The next morning, in Bogota, as we lay in bed before getting up—trying to stay as warm as possible under a crisp white duvet—we heard car horns, rumbling trucks, sirens, and loud TVs from other rooms in the hotel.

That was just the beginning of the cognitive dissonance we experienced on our sixth day in Colombia, when we took a boat, three taxis, and a plane from a small Caribbean island near Cartagena to Colombia’s mountainous capital city, Bogota. In a few hours, we went from sea level to more than 8,000 feet; from a hot, dusty island without cars to a cool, rainy city choked with traffic; from a population of a few hundred to a population of 8 million.

Once we got over our mental whiplash (and adjusted to the change in altitude), we threw ourselves into the things Bogota had to offer. First and foremost was an exposition of traditional Colombian crafts held in a huge convention center—row upon row of colorful beaded jewelry and masks, wood carvings, baskets, ceramics, and woven hats. Some of the styles harken back to pieces we saw in Bogota’s most famous museum, the Museo del Oro. That big, wonderful museum tells the stories of the country’s many pre-Colombian ethnic groups through the intricate gold, silver, and other metalwork they created over the past 2,000 years.

Jumping from ancient to modern, we also visited the art collection of Colombian painter and sculptor Fernando Botero. His love of exaggerated proportions—especially short, squat people and animals—makes his work instantly recognizable and whimsical. Along with a large group of his own works, Botero donated his collection of world-class 19th- and 20th-century European paintings to the city of Bogota to create a free museum that anyone can visit.

Since we’re us, food played a big part in our visit to Bogota. We walked around the huge Paloquemao produce market, marveling at all of the interesting South American fruits, and savored international restaurants in the Chapinero neighborhood where we stayed (our favorites were a Moroccan place called Marrakesh and a pan-Asian restaurant called Wok). We also tried some Bogota specialties at little restaurants on Calle 11 next to the cathedral. I loved the rice-based tamales steamed in banana leaves and the ajiaco, a thick stew that tastes like mashed potatoes flavored with chicken and corn. Melissa pronounced the Chocolate Santafereno—a cup of hot chocolate into which you dunk chunks of mild soft cheese— significantly better than she’d expected.

We took Uber everywhere to get around the city. It’s not quite legal, but Bogotanos like it because it tends to be more reliable than the local taxi system. Bogota is huge, and the traffic can be awful, so it was nice to have reliable drivers (a few of whom even spoke English). The parts of the city we saw—from the Chapinero area south to La Candelaria, the oldest part of Bogota—were an interesting mix of old and modern. Sleek high-rise office and apartment buildings were interspersed with one- and two-story buildings in traditional European styles (such as faux Tudor and Venetian), a few Spanish colonial-era churches and houses, and many ordinary brick or concrete-block buildings that were often adorned with a variety of street art (ranging from graffiti to impressive paintings).

The night we arrived in Bogota, I looked at the city on Google maps and thought my wifi connection was so slow that the map wasn’t loading properly: East of the yellow road called Carrera 1, there was nothing on the map. By daylight, I realized that the seemingly empty space is occupied by surprisingly steep and tall mountains, which can be seen from all over the city and are useful for orienting yourself.

There’s a church on one of the peaks, Monserrate, that is covered in bright Christmas lights at this time of year. On our last night in Bogota, we tried to take the cable car up the mountain to see the lights and the view over the city. Unfortunately, a sizable portion of Bogota’s 8 million residents had the same idea. The lines at the cable car station were so long that we figured it would be midnight before we reached the top. So we contented ourselves with enjoying the Christmas lights at the base station and on buildings around the city as our Uber car inched its way back to our hotel, where we packed for an early-morning departure to our next part of Colombia: coffee country.

 

 

 

 

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Life on the Big Island, Colombia’s Isla Grande https://theslowroad.org/wp/blog/life-on-the-big-island-colombias-isla-grande/ Tue, 18 Dec 2018 15:58:05 +0000 http://theslowroad.org/wp/?p=25620 I have a love-hate relationship with tropical beaches. I dream about them, long for them, and then when I visit one, I remember all the things that photos of turquoise water and palm trees don’t show: the salt spray that sticks like glue to your sunglasses, the sand that gets everywhere so you never really […]]]>

I have a love-hate relationship with tropical beaches. I dream about them, long for them, and then when I visit one, I remember all the things that photos of turquoise water and palm trees don’t show: the salt spray that sticks like glue to your sunglasses, the sand that gets everywhere so you never really feel clean, the heat and relentless sun, the mosquitoes and sand flies that cover you in bites, no matter how much bug spray you apply (over the layers of salt and sand and sunscreen on your skin), the towels and swimsuits that never quite dry in the humidity, and the faint smell of mildew that perfumes your water bottle and everything in your luggage. But still I keep coming back. (Note from Melissa: Exactly how I feel! But swimming in the warm sea is just so addictive, even when there aren’t fish to see.)

So after two days in sweltering Cartagena, Melissa, AJ, Francesca, and I took an hour-long boat ride to Isla Grande, the largest of the Rosario Islands off Colombia’s Caribbean coast. There we moved into a two-story wooden rental house for four nights to experience life at a much quieter pace.

Isla Grande is the most rustic and authentic-feeling Caribbean island I’ve visited. Despite the name, it’s not terribly large (maybe 4 km by 1 km). It has a village of about 1200 people, and we saw far more islanders than visitors during our stay. There are no cars, golf carts, or paved roads, only push carts, bicycles, and dirt paths crisscrossing the island, most with little or no signage.

The island has no fresh water and minimal electricity. Our house—part of an “eco-hotel” that also included the owners’ house and two one-room guest cabins—relied on stored rainwater and solar panels, so we tried to use the shower, ceiling fans, and lights sparingly. Ants and mosquitos were ubiquitous, but we were spared the giant cockroaches, moths, and spiders we’ve encountered elsewhere in the Caribbean.

The island is part of a marine national park, and there are lots of signs highlighting the importance of preserving nature and keeping the island free of trash. The message seems to be getting through. Isla Grande has lots of tree cover in the interior and intact mangrove forests along the water—a vital coastal ecosystem that in other places has been cut down for development. There’s minimal plastic trash on the beaches and much less litter than we’ve seen in other parts of the developing world. There are also tree iguanas and plenty of bird life, including parrots, pelicans, egrets, and magnificent frigate birds.

Our rental house was large and airy, with good beds surrounded by mosquito nets, lots of windows with shutters to let in the afternoon breeze, and best of all, an upstairs veranda with five hammocks (so no fighting over who got one). However, communicating with people was far tougher than on the mainland; we found the Spanish creole spoken by the island’s Afro-Caribbean residents almost impenetrable. The island gets very dark after 6 p.m. (there are few outside lights), so there wasn’t much to do in the evening besides huddling at the table eating dinner and playing cards under a single bare lightbulb. We did take flashlights outside a couple of time to look at the stars, which were amazing. The food (cooked to order by the family that runs the place) was tasty but expensive and very repetitive: grilled chicken, fried fish, or shrimp, served always with rice, fried plantains, and chopped carrots and cucumber.

We swam often at the small but sandy beach a five-minute walk from the house. Francesca practiced using her little snorkel and mask and was delighted to spot a couple of small fish. Our best beach moment came when we bought a freshly caught lobster from a local vendor, who grilled it for us for lunch. Heavenly!

Later we took a boat trip around Isla Grande and some of the 26 smaller islands in the Islas Rosarios chain. We saw, from a distance, the private island of Colombia’s presidents (a kind of Caribbean Camp David) and a vast crumbling vacation house that had belonged to the late Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar. On a nearby island we visited the Oceanario, an aquarium with pens fenced off from the surrounding sea, where the staff cares for turtles, brown sharks, dolphins, and other marine creatures. It seemed like a reputable place, as aquariums go, and we got a good view of two adorable baby dolphins swimming with their mothers.

On our final day on Isla Grande, we spent the afternoon at a nearby resort (called Cocoliso), where we relished the chance to eat slightly different food for lunch and enjoyed the immense luxury of a large freshwater pool with real lounge chairs. (Note from Melissa: I never quite understand how a pool can beat the ocean, but the lounge chairs were nice!)

By far our most memorable experience on the island was a visit to the bioluminescent “Enchanted Lagoon.” On a dark, moonless night, our guide led us with flashlights on a 20-minute walk along dirt paths and down some wooden planks to a floating platform at the edge of the lagoon. Climbing down the metal ladder into the cool, ink-black water was daunting. But when we started to swim, tiny sparks of light appeared around our arms and legs (wherever there was motion) from the bioluminescent plankton in the water. Swimming or floating among those specks of underwater light, while looking up at a sky full of stars, was utterly magical.

This post makes it sound like we packed a lot into our three and a half days on Isla Grande. But in reality there were long stretches of time spent lolling in hammocks and trying to keep Francesca occupied. We were more than ready to get back to the comforts of civilization by the time we left. But we had some wonderful experiences on the island, and I got enough of a dose of tropical beach to last me for a good long time—or until my mosquito bites fade and I start dreaming of turquoise water again.

[Thanks to AJ Ferraro for the great pics. Melissa left her camera stored away while on the island.]

 

 

 

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Tropical Torpor in Colombia https://theslowroad.org/wp/blog/tropical-torpor-in-colombia/ https://theslowroad.org/wp/blog/tropical-torpor-in-colombia/#comments Sat, 15 Dec 2018 22:59:20 +0000 http://theslowroad.org/wp/?p=25576 Our first experience of South America was heat and beating sun—the kind of heat that made us feel like we were back in Southeast Asia. That’s because we landed in Cartagena on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, a city that was one of Spain’s major ports in the New World and a prime target for […]]]>

Our first experience of South America was heat and beating sun—the kind of heat that made us feel like we were back in Southeast Asia. That’s because we landed in Cartagena on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, a city that was one of Spain’s major ports in the New World and a prime target for pirates. Today, the old parts of Cartagena are colorful and charming, full of narrow streets and low, brightly painted buildings with flower-filled balconies (where residents tried desperately to catch a breeze). There’s not much else for tourists to see in Cartagena, except some colonial-era churches and fortifications, but the city would be a perfect place for strolling—if it weren’t for the relentless 90-degree F days, equatorial sun, and throngs of touts.

The vendors sell everything from souvenirs to boat rides to sunglasses to teeth-shatteringly sweet local candy. Many of them are from neighboring Venezuela, among the more than 1 million refugees who have fled to Colombia as their country’s economy has collapsed. You can’t blame them for trying hard to earn a living in a new place; still, if you want to get down a street in Cartagena’s old town at any pace faster than a snail’s, you have to say “no, gracias” a lot as you pick your way among the vendors.

That’s not to say that we haven’t helped the Cartagena economy a little. AJ enjoyed sampling different local sweets and paid to take Francesca’s picture with the women in colorful dresses and bowls of fruit on their heads who walk around the city charging for photographs. We also paid a local guide in the Parque el Centenario (Centennial Park) to point out the interesting wildlife living in the tall trees of that dusty urban patch of land. We saw big brown iguanas, green parrots, black-and-white tamarins (which look like small monkeys), a baby vulture, and adult and juvenile sloths. There’s a family of sloths living in the park, each member dozing in its own tree, until they come together (like kids at the dinner table) in whatever tree happens to be flowering at the moment.


For our two nights in Cartagena, we stayed in the Getsemani neighborhood, close to the old town but less touristy, in the aptly named Casa Relax—an old house centered on a courtyard that has been turned into a 12-room hotel, complete with such godsends as air conditioning and a partially shaded swimming pool. The promise of a swim (along with a visit to a famous popsicle shop) is how we lured a bored and drooping Francesca through the hot streets as we walked around the old city.

Just up the street from our hotel, a small plaza in front of a church transforms in the evening into the neighborhood’s living room. People sit on benches and talk, food carts arrive, young guys play music, and kids whiz around on bikes. There, we met Alvaro, a Colombian man in his 50s who was selling souvenir magnets. He’d worked as a tour guide in Venezuela for decades but had recently returned to Colombia when tourism to Venezuela dried up. Now he’s trying to earn enough to pay for a tour guide’s license in Cartagena and is working on his language skills. His English is excellent, thanks in part to a notebook he carries in which he copies poems and articles he finds at the library to study whenever he has time. To make himself more marketable, he’s trying to learn German as well. When he found out that AJ teaches English to immigrants, he asked her for all kinds of advice and engaged her in conversation for an hour. Alvaro is such a friendly, upbeat, hard-working person that we feel sure he’ll do well.

While we were talking, Francesca—whose energy had returned as the evening cooled off—was amusing herself by running back and forth between our bench and the church steps as fast as she could. She was joined by a little boy who wanted to race. Together, they ran and whooped and dodged the people lolling in the square, as the tropical torpor dissolved (for a few precious hours) into a temperature at which Cartagena’s residents and visitors could enjoy life again.

 

 

 

 

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Riga Scenes https://theslowroad.org/wp/blog/riga-scenes/ Wed, 05 Sep 2018 22:42:19 +0000 http://theslowroad.org/wp/?p=25403 There’s more to Latvia’s capital than Art Nouveau. This gallery of scenes from Riga includes the giant Central Market (housed in former Zeppelin hangars), some of the city’s grand monuments, a few of the rare medieval buildings that survived bombing in World War II, displays of traditional Latvian clothing and knitting, and some unusual exhibitions […]]]>

There’s more to Latvia’s capital than Art Nouveau. This gallery of scenes from Riga includes the giant Central Market (housed in former Zeppelin hangars), some of the city’s grand monuments, a few of the rare medieval buildings that survived bombing in World War II, displays of traditional Latvian clothing and knitting, and some unusual exhibitions and street food we found while exploring the city.

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Riga Art Nouveau https://theslowroad.org/wp/blog/riga-art-nouveau/ https://theslowroad.org/wp/blog/riga-art-nouveau/#comments Sat, 01 Sep 2018 20:44:39 +0000 http://theslowroad.org/wp/?p=25399 If you ever come to the capital of Latvia, don’t forget to look up! Riga has the highest concentration of Art Nouveau buildings in the world. That style was popular from around 1900 to 1914, a period when the city’s population almost doubled and hundreds of apartment buildings were built—each vying to look modern and […]]]>

If you ever come to the capital of Latvia, don’t forget to look up! Riga has the highest concentration of Art Nouveau buildings in the world. That style was popular from around 1900 to 1914, a period when the city’s population almost doubled and hundreds of apartment buildings were built—each vying to look modern and unique. We rented a little apartment in one of those buildings. Although our room didn’t have any period touches, the nearby Art Nouveau Museum showed us a beautifully restored example of a bourgeois family’s apartment from the early 1900s.

Art Nouveau architecture took various forms in Riga: Eclectic (masses of ornate decoration, like an over-the-top wedding cake), Perpendicular (strong vertical lines), and National Romantic (muted earth tones, asymmetry, and decoration based on folk art). Wandering the streets with her camera, Melissa took almost 300 photos of the fabulous buildings. We’ve whittled that down to 71 to give you a taste of the rich variety of Art Nouveau design in Riga.