First bar made of glacial ice opens in Patagonia, Argentina

The first ice bar in Patagonia, Argentina, opened last week, which also happens to be the first bar in the world created out of glacial ice, according to Paola Singer of The New York Times. Located just outside El Calafate, Glaciobar is the newest addition to Glaciarium, a new science museum focusing on the region’s hundreds of glaciers.

Glaciobar will provide patrons with gloves, hooded capes, and boots for warmth. For health and safety reasons, however, the maximum time allowed in the bar is 20 minutes. During this time, most people choose to sip on the house cocktail, a mixture of Fernet con Coca and Coca Cola.

Want to see for yourself what Glaciobar is like? Check out this video:


Weekending: Varna, Bulgaria

weekend bulgaria travel varna
Back in September, the end of the Muslim month of Ramadan offered locals and expats like me an excuse to go on holiday while our American friends were celebrating the end of summer and Labor Day. With more time to explore than a typical Weekending trip, I checked out Turkey’s most western neighbor, Bulgaria, and fell in love with modern and medieval captials Sofia and Veliko Tarnovo.

The place: Varna, Bulgaria

Varna is known as the summertime capital of Bulgaria, a Black Sea beach town that’s a destination unto itself with several notable museums, an active cultural scene, and the gateway to the coastal resort towns.

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  • Unlike many of the purpose-built, touristy resort towns that litter the coast, Varna manages to maintain a nice balance of beach town and actual city. Pedestrian streets Knyaz Boris and Slivnitsa are great for window shopping and people watching day and night, and Varna has a handful of quirky and interesting museums to visit. The Archaeology Museum is one of the country’s best, and my visit to the creepily-cool Medical History museum (with nice Bulgarian lady following me around turning lights on and off as in VT) was one of my favorite travel experiences. Strolling the Sea Garden is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon, though the zoo is maybe the grimmest I’ve seen yet (I could have easily stuck my head into the lion’s cage with no interferrence) but with admission under $1, it’s hard to complain.
  • The variety of daytime diversions extends to nightlife too, with everything from sceney beach clubs to seedy casinos to dive bars. Indian Bar has an eclectic decor of Native American art and Italian soccer banners which manages to be more charming that offensive, while Saloon Bar is just the kind of place I’d love in my neighborhood: cheap drinks, good music, and a bartender that remembers you after one drink. Varna is also the birthplace to Happy Bar & Grill, a chain restaurant all over Bulgaria (and now in Spain too) that resembles a love child of Hooters and T.G.I. Friday’s, in the best sense. Happy has a vaguely nostalgic rock-and-roll Americana theme going on, a menu of Bulgarian food and pizza (they also have some sushi restaurants), and waitresses clad in miniskirts and nude pantyhose. There are several location including a tiki beach bar, and any of them are good spots to take advantage of free wi-fi, decent coffee, and as many ’80s music videos as you can handle. Varna is a bit pricier than other towns in Bulgaria but still a steal by Western standards.

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  • Lovely as Varna may be, the travel season is really limited to summer. While there is plenty to do in cool weather, there is greatly reduced transportation in and around town, many waterfront cafes will close in winter, and you’ll miss out on experiencing the summer scene. The Black Sea has been the hot weather refuge of many Europeans for decades and Varna retains some old-school (and Communist-era) flavor (see the above photo of the thermal pools frequented by the elder residences) while joining the modern world with boutique hotels and sushi restaurants popping up to serve a growing international clientele. If you visit Bulgaria in cold weather, your time would be better spent exploring the old towns and museums in central and western Bulgaria.
  • I’d be remiss in wrapping up a series on Bulgaria without pointing out the obvious obstacle: Cyrillic. Invented in Bulgaria and not Russia, the alphabet is less complicated than you think but takes some adjustment and practice to feel comfortable reading signs and maps. I was fortunate to travel with my Russian-speaking husband who could at least read the alphabet (though Russian and Bulgarian are as dissimilar as English and Spanish) but I got the hang of it quickly enough. Rather than trying to memorize the alphabet in advance, transcribe a few key and familiar words, such as your name, your hotel, and the towns you are visiting so you can begin to recognize the characters. Also, Bulgaria’s quirk is the reverse head nod: they nod horizontally for yes, vertically for no. This feels very foreign the first time you experience it but makes an odd sense after a few days.

Getting there

Most of the international flights to Varna are from Eastern Europe, though the great budget carrier Wizz Air flies from London and Sofia. Bus service is excellent throughout the country (about 7 hours from Sofia) or from Istanbul (10 hours) or Bucharest (7 hours), but train service is slower and less comfortable.

Make it a week

Rent a car or bus hop along the coast if the weather is good, taking note that if a town has a foreign name (like Golden Sands) it’s probably an overbuilt tourist town. You could also combine with other regions of Bulgaria. I fit in Sofia, Veliko Tarnavo, and Varna comfortably in an 8 day Saturday – Sunday trip, traveling between cities by bus and returning to Sofia for my international flight on Wizz Air.

Read about more Weekending trips here.

Istanbul after dark

You can read any guidebook or travel article for ideas on how to spend your days in Istanbul, taking in the city’s many world-class museums and bustling neighborhoods. But at night, you’re better off using local resources and recommendations as a starting point and then following your own instincts. In the name of research, I checked out a few diversions from the wholesome to adults-only. While by no means an exhaustive guide to Istanbul’s myriad nightlife choices, there are a few tips to keep in mind on what to do after dark.Going to the movies
Fortunately for non-Turkish speakers, foreign movies are shown in their original language with Turkish subtitles, so while you may not be able to watch a French art-house film, you can count on the latest Hollywood movies in English. Bonus: you can increase your Turkish vocabulary by following along the subtitles; I picked up some choice curse words and euphemisms watching Get Him to the Greek. The foreign-ness of the experience begins when you purchase tickets – you actually choose and reserve your seat in the theater – a new but welcome experience I haven’t seen in the US. Corn is a beloved food staple throughout the country, so popcorn is always available, though they haven’t figured out the butter thing. Before the feature begins, you’ll be subjected to ten minutes or so of loud Turkish advertisements (have you ever seen liquor ads at the movies, let alone for competing brands?) and previews in various languages. Just when you reach the halfway point, the lights will come up and there will be a ten-minute intermission to use the bathroom, get more dry popcorn, or speculate on how Inception will end. Check for listings online (Google “movies Istanbul”); some theaters let you buy tickets on their website.

Beerhalls and cocktail bars
It may be a Muslim country but alcohol flows freely in Istanbul, albeit for a price, particularly for imported liquor. Learn to love Efes (the domestic beer), raki (strong but foul-tasting anise-flavored liquor), and Turkish wines (şarap SHARAP – beyaz for white and kırmızı KURMUHZUH for red); all of which can run from 5 TL for a half-liter of beer in a low-key tavern to 20 TL for a glass of wine in a more upmarket locale. For the most variety of bars, from old-man pubs to rooftop lounges, head to the Beyoglu (BAY-YO-LOO) district off Taksim Square and turn down any street leading from the mostly-pedestrian Istiklal Caddesi. Best bets for a variety of cafes and bars are Cihangir (down the hill from Taksim along Siraselviler Caddesi), the “French Street” in Galatasaray (midway down Istiklal and left at the big high school), and Asmalı Mescit at the opposite end of Istiklal. At Kafe Pi near Tunel, we were probably the first people in a decade to order the above-photographed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles shots and they were as delightful as you’d imagine. Wander around until you find a spot that suits you and enjoy the people-watching.

Clubs – dancing girls and salsa dancing
The city’s top nightclubs line the Bosphorus, the most famous is Reina, though it’s more infamous for exorbitant drink prices, posturing crowd, and frequent closures for noise pollution and other offenses. Slightly more laid back but still pricey is Anjelique in Ortakoy, where a bottle of local wine will run you around 60 TL or if you’re flash, 400 TL for the full Absolut bottle service. Make a reservation for dinner if you actually want to get into a club. Actually want to dance instead of just stand around in stillettos? Back in Beyoglu, Cuba Bar has live music and salsa dancing on weekends. Looking for a more, er, gentlemanly club? The city’s nicest strip club (actually, might be the only one) is Regina Revue (WARNING: link not remotely safe for work or any other place you don’t want to be seen looking at naked women) north of Taksim near the Hilton Hotel. More burlesque than pole-dancing, the club is harmless, fairly cheesy fun with an unapologetically bordello-esque decor. My friend and I were the only non-working women there but neither we nor our male companions were harassed by the clientele or the dancers. The “shows” range from a writhing woman on a motorcycle to an inexplicably artsy number with a Trojan horse prop. While not a typical choice for a Friday night out, my table had a great time guessing the story behind each dance and the nationality of each (almost all natural) dancer (nearly all Russian or Eastern European), and there are certainly seedier places to spend an evening.

Find another fun night spot in Istanbul? Leave us a comment below.

Vegas club offers holographic hotties

Offering these girls a few drinks won’t help you get back to your room any less alone. So, when you’re scouring the Las Vegas Strip in the hopes of a blissful night, use Lolita’s Cantina and Tequila as a place to plan your next move – not make it. There’s a good reason for this – the girls aren’t real. And, that can make laying down some game a little harder.

Lolita’s just opened holographic dancing girls act this week. They have all the right moves … because that’s what they’re programmed to do. The technology behind nightclub developer Eric DeBiasi’s ladies must be good. In the past it was used by Damon Albarn’s virtual band (the Gorillaz) and Live Earth Tokyo to render former Vice President Al Gore on stage.

Now, it’s full potential is being realized.

While most dancers are given no room for error – and failing in that area can be evident and embarrassing – these vixens put on a flawless show, due in large part to the fact that the DJ is in complete control of every muscle movement.

Lolita’s may be home to the perfect show, but it isn’t the only game in town. 3opolis, which launched last year at Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino, has the same hot holographs teasing the crowd.

It’s a great concept, with only one flaw: though they won’t say “no,” these dancers will never head back to your suite with you.


[Photo: Flickr | scaredy_kat]

Buy local music – Souvenir tip

Most vacation spots sport all kinds of souvenirs at shops aimed at tourists. Many of these items were manufactured in other countries and have nothing to do with the location you came to visit. Take home a memory and support local creativity everywhere you go. Visit a club or an area with street performers and buy a CD from a musician.

Choose someone whose music you enjoy and strike up a conversation. Get the CD signed, and you’ve succeeded at supporting someone’s music and acquiring a personalized souvenir and a story to go with it.