Tag Archives: city travel

Travelling with a Chromebook

My Chromebook was one of my last acquisitions before we set off, I dithered for about 3 months on whether a Chromebook would be able to handle everything I needed it for whilst I was away. Extensive googling gave me exactly what I expected, mixed reviews. Not on the performance of the machine itself but on whether it would even be useable whilst I was away.


For those not sure what denotes a Chromebook, here’s a little info. A Chromebook is usually* akin to a netbook (small portable laptop) the difference that has to be made clear though is that the operating system is not Windows as you might expect but Chrome OS. If you’re currently reading this on a chrome browser, which I sincerely hope you are, then you might now be thinking “Google?”

Chrome OS is indeed designed by Google! For most of us the difference that is most stark is that rather than installing programmes like you would on your Windows or Apple computer, you install Apps like you would on your smartphone or tablet. This is where the Chromebook becomes a write off for some people. No you can’t have Photoshop, Word or Skype, sorry! The other big difference is that the OS is intended to be used with an Internet connection, when you open an App it launches as a new Chrome browser tab. If you’re now thinking “that sounds pretty useless” as I was at this point, please give my poor Chromebook a bit more time and attention.


Right, my Acer only has 16gb Solid State Drive** so for most files, photos etc. i’m using an external HDD anyway. After research I worked out that the only things i’d be able to do whilst not connected to the internet were; write/edit documents, watch movies, edit photos, listen to music, write emails and play games. As I’m sure you can see, there’s not a lot else most of us do whilst not connected to the internet than that list. I’m not going to lie and say it’s a piece of cake and it does require some adaptation to new apps such as Google Docs and Hangouts, but all of these things are possible.


Here are some bits you might like. I spent £199 on my Chromebook, Lauren spent the total yearly GDP of France on her 11” MacBook Air. The biggest considerations for me were battery life, price and weight. To the touch the 2 weigh the same, around 1.2kg** The Air is thinner at the front, but overall again they’re pretty similar. I’ve got a 9 hour battery life, the Air has 11 and finally my Chromebook cost £900 less than Lauren’s Air.


I’m not trying to say that my Chromebook is superior to the MacBook Air, as Lauren has a huge SSD and is happily photoshopping as I write, but I’ve got a desktop at home to do all that. What I needed for the duration of our trip was exactly what I’ve got, a cheap, light computer with a great battery life!

Everything in the review before this sentence was written after 3 months of travelling. Here is the 14 month update as to how its held up!

I am still typing on my Chromebook, so as you can see it’s still going. The case has a few more scratches in it but the performance is still going strong. When I consider the body is plastic it’s actually done remarkably well. Whilst living in the rainforest for 8 months I did have some problems that meant the keyboard wouldn’t work. Annoying but not an issue most people will experience (it survived 6 months of humidity before this problem occurred.) On leaving the jungle some silica gel fixed the problem in under 12 hours.

Overall I would say that whilst the screen isn’t the best, it’s comfortable and the speakers whilst of lower quality have a superior maximum volume to Lauren’s Air. The built in webcam is terrible but since most of the South American internet connections are as well, a lower quality camera hasn’t been a problem.

Most importantly the OS. Have I found it a problem? Easy answer, no. There are still issues to be worked out, such as the fact that I can’t store music to device from my Google Music account, but hopefully this is just in the pipework for the imminent updates. You can still store music files and play them normally without a problem.

So yes i would suggest a Chromebook as a viable and good choice for a computer whilst travelling. I can only speak for my Acer C720 in terms of build and performance but I can say that Chromebooks are viable options for travelling.

*The Chromebook Pixel is much more heavy duty.
**With 100gb of free Google Drive cloud storage for 2 years.
***The Air weighs 1.08kg but we’re travelling so it’s aluminium needed a protector bringing the weight up

Studying Spanish in Sucre

After our stay in Potosi and our visit to the mines, our group, now numbering seven, decided to travel to Sucre. We travelled the three hours in two local taxis, as this was the cheapest option for our group. With Claire’s suitcase tied with twine to the top of the smallest taxi in the world and a few hairpin bends along the way, where we all feared the suitcase would end up at the bottom of the cliff, we were relieved to make it to Sucre in one piece.

Determined to improve our Spanish and learn a few more phrases than the overused “dos cervezas por favour”, when we arrived in Sucre we signed up for a week of Spanish lessons. Opting for one-to-one sessions at the Bolivian Spanish School, we spent our mornings studying and the majority of our afternoons doing homework and relaxing in many of the lovely cafes Sucre has to offer. So taken with our studies and thanks to another blockade we ended up staying for two weeks of lessons.

Sucre is the constitutional capital of Bolivia. Although La Paz remains to official capital many Bolivians have campaigned for Sucre to take its place. With beautiful architecture, museums, cafes and friendly people it’s easy to see why we were more than happy to be stuck in Sucre for two weeks.


They even have handy Zebras to help you cross the road too…

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So what else did we get up to during our stay? With an array of Musuems on offer in Sucre we opted to visit the Museo Universitario Charcas in our first few days in the city. Although much of the information was in Spanish (but hey we needed the practice!), it was worth a visit even if just to see the fascinating collection of mummies.


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After a while though some of us got a bit bored…


On another of our afternoons we hiked up to the Recoleta Mirador and enjoyed a few glasses of wine in the sun…



On the weekend we dodged the cars racing through the city in Sucre’s annual rally. Only in Bolivia would they host an event where the cars speed through the city without any barriers to keep the pedestrians out of the road!




Taking our lives into our own hands we made our way to the city’s Cemetery. Walking around was a very different experience to the Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires – the graves were brightly decorated with photos, flowers and often singing cards.



On the Sunday in Sucre and after a brief visit to the Para Ti chocolate factory for a chocolate breakfast and tour (photos were forbidden sorry!), we made our way to Parque Cretacico to see the fossilised dinosaur footprints. We looked very fetching in our hard hats…




It was a bit of a hike up and down, but was worth a look.



You are not allowed too close to the fossils for their protection and for fear of falling rocks and this was aptly demonstrated by the security guard, who made sure we knew were the line was…


And of course we didn’t miss out on the chance to pose with the many dinosaur models…





But sadly the dinosaur play park was reserved for children only…


During one of my Spanish lessons I was treated to a trip to La Glorieta Castle. Not really a castle but more of a palace, it grounds were home to an old orphanage that now forms part of the city’s military barracks.


My tour of the castle was in Spanish, and my teacher tested my understanding after, but tours are also available in English. Although not recommended in my guidebook, it’s certainly worth a visit even if just to study the weird mishmash of architecture.

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And finally with the world cup in full swing and despite never watching football in the UK, it was easy to get behind Bolivia’s enthusiasm for the sport and spend many an afternoon with a few beers in hand!

Still not fluent in Spanish but greatly improved, Sucre was certainly a pleasant and worthwhile place to hold up for a few weeks of study.

We took 4 hours of one-to-one lessons each day Monday-Friday at the Bolivian Spanish School and at US$130 a week we would highly recommend it to any one who wants to improve their Spanish! The teachers are happy to adapt the lessons to your needs and with a few field trips thrown in, and a Friday night cookery lesson, we were sad to leave!

10 days with Captain Latin America in Santiago

Some good friends from London recently moved back to South America and settled in Santiago, so as we arrived into Santiago bus station we were so excited to see some familiar faces. The endless generosity of Teresa and Tomas made it so hard for us to eventually leave Santiago and ensured we saw all the best bits of the capital city. Thank you both again if you are reading!

Their six year old son, Matias, kept us constantly entertained throughout our stay. He had a fancy dress outfit for every occasion, from Batman to pro-footballer, and for the duration of our stay his outfit of choice was Captain (Latin!) America.


With a superhero by our side we were invincible…even when we were all squished into the back of a Taxi…


Half way through our stay in Santiago another familiar face made a surprise appearance. You’ll notice Iain is absent from the picture above and instead Sam a good friend from London is trapped in the middle of the pile. For the next few weeks or possibly the near future Sam will be joining us on our South American adventure. He quit his job and like us booked himself a one-way flight…and people, travel really is as simple as that…well once you’ve read our blog on financing your travel of course.

Naturally with good friends in tow much of our time was spent exchanging stories and generally catching up but here are a few of the other highlights from Santiago that we haven’t already blogged about. Valparaiso and Concha Y Toro are not to be missed but here are a few other suggestions for your stay in Santiago…

Visit La Moneda and Plaza de la Libertad

Our first foray into Santiago saw us getting off the Metro at La Moneda, the presidential palace. Unplanned by us we had arrived just in time to catch a flag raising and military ceremony.


Also a popular protest spot, there were many groups at La Moneda protesting everything from water conservation, to students and native rights…as far as our limited Spanish could tell. We had no idea what their chants were, but they were incredibly catchy. The side effect of the chanting was that all the stray dogs were drawn from miles around. Upon reaching the picket lines each dog picked a side, some fancy themselves as fellow protesters or others as police backup.


Plaza de Armas vs. Plaza de la Constitucion

The guidebook had promised Plaza de Armas to be a great place to relax, drink coffee and people watch. This might be true, however, if visiting any time soon unfortunately all you will see is corrugated iron. When all but a thin sliver of it is closed for renovation all you can really do is try and push through the bottleneck.

However the Cathedral (also under renovation) was still open so we crept inside for a quick look.


Wanting to bask in the sun, drink a coffee and people watch we instead headed for Plaza de la Constitucion and admired the Palace, the guards and the people.



Mercado Central and La Vega

Having explored Mercado Central and its fish market only briefly, our friends insisted we revisited and tried the produce, and so grabbed us all a table at “Donde Augusto”. If you go, make sure you try the ceviche, as it is amazing!


On our first visit we experienced a slight sense of De-ja-vu as the markets metalwork roof is almost an exact replica of Spitalfields market in London. Be prepared the restaurateurs will gleefully tell you again and again that the metalwork was in fact made and assembled in Birmingham, whilst not so subtly dropping in an invitation to sit down it their restaurant. Nevertheless it’s worth a visit.


Across the river is La Vega Mercado, which is the best place to buy your fruit and vegetables in Santiago. Also a great place to people watch…I picked up a friend who wouldn’t look out of place in the East End of London.

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If you fancy some authentic street food then the bridge between the two markets is covered in locals selling ceviche and noodles out of supermarket trolleys.

On the subject of food…

Have a Sandwich at Tip y Tap

After picking Sam up from the airport our friends Tomas and Teresa took us to a restaurant that sold traditional Chilean sandwiches.  Sam doesn’t like excess sauces or greenery in his sandwich and was pleased to find many are just meat and cheese. What arrived was a mountain of meat between two pieces of thin bread…apparently a traditional Chilean sandwich should collapse under it’s own weight whilst you’re trying to eat it. This annoys Mati who likes his sandwiches to do as they’re told. So be warned if you’re expecting it to be a light snack!

Los Dominicos and the Costanera Center

When it comes to shopping, with these two destinations Santiago has it covered. Los Dominicos, on the end of Line 1, is one of the best Artisan Markets in South America.

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And if you’re lucky during your visit you may even catch a glimpse of Captain Latin America wrestling a fierce cat.


And if you’re hankering for all the modern comforts and purchases of say Westfields then look no further than the Costanera Center. This, the largest shopping center in South America is easily found by heading towards the tallest building in the city…seriously you cant miss it. We stopped in at H&M followed by Lush to resupply on socks and soap…very exciting.


Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino

One of our highlights was the Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino, so if you have some time then we’d thoroughly recommend a visit. Covering many of the different South American civilisations it’s a real eye opener as to the level of craftsmanship that existed on the continent for thousands of years before the first Europeans arrived.



“Coffee with Legs”

If you fancy some more modern Santiago then head for some “coffee with legs.” Iain entirely missed the point with this the first time we passed a coffee shop. Assuming the “legs” referred to the fact that you had to stand up to drink your coffee, I surprisingly had to point out that the “legs” might in fact refer to the waitresses in the heels and very short skirts. Sorry no pictures.

Santa Lucia and Cerro San Cristobal

In the center of the city is the Santa Lucia Hill which is somewhere between a park, castle and stately home. Climbing to the top of the tallest tower will give some nice views of the city and a pleasant wander through the gardens. Beware it’s a bit of a hike up but worth it.

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If you fancy a more panoramic view of the city then taking the funicular up Cerro San Cristobal gives the best views of the city and the Andes behind. Be aware though that due to the low rainfall and light wind, Santiago often suffers from smog that hangs above the city, so try and pick a clear day.

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Final Thanks and Advice

Santiago is a brilliant city so all that is left for us to say is thanks again to Tomas, Teresa and Mati and leave you with a final piece of advice…

Get a BIP card! This little piece of plastic will make travel around the city much easier and can be purchased and topped up in any metro station. Best of all multiple people can use the same card.

City Travel: Bus or Metro?

In London its fair to say I was one of those Londoners who knew where they were going and used the tube (or metro) as a way to get there quicker. Failing that I’d always walk, preferring a stroll to a bus journey that would inevitably crawl along on London’s roads. However when I’m travelling it’s a different story.


In a new city I will nearly always advocate mastering the bus system. Of course this depends on whether the city has a competent bus system worth mastering but bus travel in a foreign city is part of the experience. Yes explore the metro too, but like the London tube I find most metro systems lack the charm of a bus and here’s why…


You get to see the city – with time to spare it is always worth making a few journeys on the bus even if the traffic is bad. You get to see more of the city than you would buried deep underground and I find it allows you to build a mental map of the city to use later when strolling around.

You meet people – even in Rio where we could barely communicate with anyone bar nods, smiles and shoulder shrugs, we still found people on the bus were eager to help and talk to us, even if the conversation was one way! Any experience of an underground system will tell you that you’ll be lucky to make eye contact with another human being let alone get a word out of one.

They usually get you to the doorstep – you can ask the driver to shout when you reach your destination and unlike the metro they usually drop you within metres of where you are trying to get to. If you’re lucky they sometimes even become taxis, as we found at 3am in the morning when we were the only passengers on the bus and the driver insisted on dropping us to our door.

They are cheap – enough said really…

They run all night – most metro systems stop at night but you will nearly always be able to find a bus home in the early hours of the morning.

The expanse of the network – certainly on this continent the bus networks far outstrip the reach of metro systems.

Do our readers agree? Or have any other tips and stories about transport?