As we drive into San Nicholaas, the second town of Aruba, the morning’s already hot but nothing much is stirring. The building by which we park, with shutters pulled down against the sun, looks just like any other. Just like any other, that is, except for the striking eyes and Amerindian face staring out from above the entrance with swirling peacock feathers for hair.
We’ve arrived at the Artisa gallery and headquarters of Aruba Art Fair where we’ve come for a painting workshop with local artist Vanessa Paulina. We find Vanessa busy painting a mural on the walls of a local shop, which is yet to be finished. A string of Indian beads like those that would have been traded by the first inhabitants of Aruba, is ornamented with African masks, Indian faces and the head of the Spanish queen who funded Christopher Columbus to adventure here. Vanessa tells me how the beads represent a circle of life that connects us all, from the native Indians, the colonists and traders, to the artists of today.
She’s a well known artist on Aruba, with paintings on exhibition in the Historical Museum at Fort Zoutman and plenty of experience of community street-art projects, from her time studying and living in the Netherlands. The mural has been commissioned by the Ministry of Culture and as we walk around we realise that it’s only the latest in a street-art gallery that covers the buildings of San Nicholaas. This may be the Caribbean, but it’s an unexpected contrast to the white sand beaches and palm leaf beach umbrellas that you’ll find elsewhere on the island.
By comparison with the bustling shopping malls of Oranjestad, packed with cruise visitors, San Nicholaas feels sleepy and somewhat down-at heel. When the oil refinary closed in 2009, people and jobs moved away from the town and there was little to bring tourists here unless they were driving to the popular Baby Beach nearby. But since the Aruba Art Fair took place in September 2016, there’s a new reason to visit this quiet corner of Aruba, and that’s the Street Art.
Art Fair organiser, Tito Bolivar, told me how he’d come up with the idea after a trip to Colombia when he’d seen so much amazing art on the streets of Bogota. “I came back to the island and thought – why not here?” he told me, and in less than a year the project took shape, with the first Aruba Art Fair being held in September 2016.
One of the first international street-artists that Tito invited to be part of the project was Bordalo II from Portugal, who is known for recycling rubbish to create his large scale “Trash Animal” pieces. To create the iguana that we saw clinging to the side of the building in San Nicholaas, the team drove around the island, picking over car wrecks, scrap metal and rubbish washed up on the beach.
Next on board with the project was Leon Keer of the Netherlands who is known for his surrealist pieces. In a disused building next to the old customs house, he painted the 3D cardboard ‘Pan’ box, which would normally contain a well known brand of corn meal from nearby Venezuela. The custom house doorways on either side of it are a reference to the large numbers of Venezuelans who arrive on Aruba for economic reasons, since the mainland is only 500 miles away – watch the video here.
As we circled the side streets around the gallery we found striking murals covering the buildings wherever we looked. In the parking lot, was a piece by Bond Truluv of Germany, which he painted when he arrived as a ‘tryout’ piece, and then went on to create a large dolphin, next to the “Daddy Cool” mural by Amsterdam Streetart. My favourite murals were the colourful carnival-like faces of a man and woman by Guache from Colombia which covered the entire height of a building.
As Tito gave me an impromptu tour, he told me how his initial idea for an art fair expanded to eventually include seven different art related projects. Before the main art fair there was a culinary competition with a twist, in which six teams from Aruba’s cookery schools, each headed by an executive chef, were tasked to create a new desert inspired by canvases from local artists. There was an auction dinner and a fashion show to showcase the work of local and international designers, as well as video interviews of local artists filmed by Conocemi, an Aruban TV show.
During the art fair itself, Tito was able to enlist the support of Aruba’s Ministries of Culture and Tourism as well as sponsorship from Aruba’s banks and business community, so that the artists themselves could sell their artwork in outdoor galleries without any charge. Several empty buildings were loaned so that Aruban art organisations could hold their own exhibitions as part of the show and provide a space for more established contemporary artists.
Tito’s mother and co-organiser Diana Croe showed me the mosaic benches around the town that had been created as part of a community project with different groups contributing the designs. The work is planned to continue with more benches and canvas sun shades which will be painted in bright colours.
Despite the success of the Aruba Art Fair, which is now established as a regular event, Tito has plenty more plans in the pipeline. His hope is to use the Art Fair and other projects to infuse art into the local community on Aruba, and he told me “I’m not an artist myself, but I feel it’s important to make a change. I see a lot of talent, and beautiful art, I want to start tapping into that talent and pushing those artists forward.” Next on the agenda is to establish a website and mobile app for the Artisa (standing for Art Is Aruba) organisation which will give information about the artists and artisans on Aruba, so that they can be more easily found.
With so much creative energy on Aruba it seems sure that this year’s Aruba Art Fair will be even bigger and better. Last year the Aruba Art Fair was held in mid September 2016, so look out for announcements of the next date on the Aruba Art Fair website and social channels: Twitter| Instagram | Facebook. For an alternative taste of the Caribbean on Aruba, head to San Nicholaas for a walk around the streets to see all the murals and call in at the Artisa HQ and gallery at Theaterstraat 20, San Nicolaas, Aruba.
San Nicholaas is around 30 mins drive from Oranjestad at the south-east end of the island and buses run several times an hour. A morning seeing the street-art could happily be combined with lunch at the quirky Charlie’s Bar, and a relaxing afternoon on nearby Baby Beach.
Where to Stay on Aruba
During my week in Aruba, I stayed at the Amsterdam Manor Beach Resort, a delightful hotel that’s just across the road from Eagle Beach. The hotel is family owned and was built 25 years ago in traditional style with Dutch gables, painted in the warm yellow that you see everywhere on Aruban buildings. I was extremely comfortable, sharing a suite with two bedrooms and a first floor balcony looking towards the sea, furnished in traditional Caribbean style with dark wood furniture, brightly coloured walls and citrus shades of lime, lemon and tangerine.
The outside areas of the hotel were beautifully maintained with paved areas, trees and immaculate planting, with a welcoming pool area and the shady Mango restaurant, where we had breakfast. The hotel is ideal for couples who want to relax by the pool or on the beach, while having a well located base for exploring Oranjestad and all the other sights of Aruba.
The staff could not have been more friendly and helpful and they even have a dedicated Romance Co-ordinator to help you organise your beach wedding or celebration event. The Fofoti trees opposite the hotel are a favourite for wedding photos and the Passions on the Beach restaurant where we ate one evening is an incredibly romantic setting to have a cocktail and dinner as the sun sets over the ocean.
Visitor Information for Aruba
Thanks to Aruba Tourism for hosting my week’s stay in Aruba to discover the island.
More articles from Aruba
You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey
January 1, 2017 by Heather Cowper
Filed under United Kingdom, Europe, World, featured, Aruba, Austria, Balearics, Bavaria, Bristol and Bath, Caribbean, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain, St Kitts, Tirol, Wales
As we start a new year I’m enjoying the memories of last year’s travels, like flicking through a photo album in my head. I visited new places, returned to old favourites and had a great mix of travels with family, friends and the occasional solo trip. This year is wide open to new travel possibilities, but before we move on let’s take a moment to revisit some of the places I travelled in 2016.
February – a weekend of culture in the Lake District
My weekend in the Lake District brought back memories of family holidays as a child, when we stayed in an old stone cottage in the Easter holidays. This time I was there with my blogging friends and Travelator Media colleagues, Zoe and Kathryn, to enjoy a cottage stay with the Good Life Cottage Company. Despite the rain we had a great time discovering the cultural side of the Lakes, at Blackwell Arts and Crafts House, Beatrix Potter’s Hilltop Farm and Wordworth’s Dove Cottage, getting out for a blustery walk on Elterwater when the rain finally stopped.
February – a spring break in Athens
Later in February I visited Athens with my parents and sister who lives in Greece, gathering for the weekend at the classic and elegant Electra Palace Hotel. The warm and sunny weather gave us the opportunity to visit the Acropolis without the scorching heat and crowds that descend on Athens in summer. We loved the fresh spring days, wandering around all the ancient sites and relaxing in a pavement cafes of Plaka to watch the world go by.
March – A Caribbean adventure in St Kitts
March took me to St Kitts, my first ever taste of the Caribbean, where I explored this island that is one half of the island federation of St Kitts and Nevis. I found a laid back and slightly scruffy charm, with lush fields that once grew sugar cane, plantation house hotels and a growing list of stylish new bars and hotels. I tried lobster on the beach and rum cocktails at Salt Plage, learned about the local medicinal plants on a rainforest walk and saw the batik being made at Romney Manor. The visit gave me a desire to visit more Caribbean islands, which despite being small in size are surprisingly diverse, each with its own character.
Read More: A stylish traveller’s guide to St Kitts
March – Cliff walks on the Gower in Wales
I’ve visited the Gower Peninsula in South Wales a few times now, since my son was at university there and in March we made a return visit to the lovely Promenade View in Mumbles. With husband Guy, my son and his friends we explored the coastal paths and gorgeous beaches of the Gower, breezing along the cliff paths of Pennard Cliffs and Three Cliffs Bay. We even clambered along the peninsula of Worms Head, just making it back before the tide turned and covered the jagged rocks with the sea again.
April – A farmhouse stay in Costa Brava
After Easter it was off to Costa Brava, for a family break in a large and luxurious farmhouse (read my review) through Charming Villas. The fields around the house were bright yellow with rapeseed and from the bedrooms we had views over the olive trees to the snow capped Pyrenees in the distance. We spent a day in Girona, with pretty pastel houses lining the river, visited the Salvador Dali museum at Figueres and had a tapas lunch in the sunshine at Cadaques, before walking over the headland to Dali’s fishermens cottages in Port Lligat.
Read More: A driving tour of Costa Brava
April – Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coast
On Northern Ireland’s scenic Causeway Coast I found windswept golden beaches, ruined castles and of course what most visitors come to see, the Giant’s Causeway. Along with the stunning landscape of the Causeway, I braved the Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge and visited the photogenic Mussenden Temple perched on the cliff-top, staying at the fabulous Bushmills Inn where a welcoming peat fire always burns. I also dipped into the thriving artizan food culture, with fabulous seafood and outstanding quality meat, all served up in huge portions with a healthy dollop of friendly Irish charm.
May – Visiting laid back Menorca
May took me to Menorca, the smallest and calmest of the Balearic islands, a place that doesn’t like to boast too much about its charms, but is full of history, fashion and great food. I spent a day exploring Mahón, the elegant capital of the island, walked to unspoiled beaches along the Cami de Cavalls and visited some of the island’s fascinating Talayotic monuments. Menorca has all the ingredients for a delightful break with mellow old buildings in Cuitadella, stylish shopping and lazy seafood lunches by the port.
Read More: How to spend a perfect day in Mahon, Menorca
June – A Uniworld Cruise through Burgundy and Provence
With husband Guy I took a Uniworld river cruise with Titan Travel through the South of France, from Lyon in the heart of Burgundy, to the medieval walled city of Avignon in Provence. The week flew by with rich insights into local culture and history, as we uncovered the secret passages of Lyon, visited the Papal Palace at Avignon and dipped into the world of Van Gough at Arles. Along the way there were plenty of opportunities to discover the delicious food and wine of Burgundy in vineyards, cookery classes and on board Uniworld’s extremely luxurious SS Catherine.
July – A road trip across Canada by RV
As a child our family were great campers, and in July I rediscovered the great outdoors in a road trip driving a motorhome (or RV as it’s known in Canada) from Toronto to Montreal. With husband Guy, I mastered how to navigate and park up our home-on-wheels and enjoyed a range of outdoor activities like cycling, hiking and kayaking in Canada’s National Parks. We also found that with a bit of planning it’s perfectly possible to visit Canada’s vibrant cities on an RV road trip. InToronto, Ottawa and Montreal we dipped into cultural highlights from totem poles to street art and new tastes from Poutine to Maple beer.
August – Cycling in Dorset
With the end of the summer in sight I went cycling with my daughter in Dorset, one of England’s prettiest counties. We set off from Dorchester, stopping for tea in Moreton and lunch overlooking Lulworth cove, passing Lulworth castle before finishing our ride in Wareham. We loved the quiet lanes, rolling countryside and sea views, not to mention all those impossibly picturesque thatched cottages, reminding me just how pretty England can be.
Read More: Cycling in Dorset on the Jurassic Coast
August – An active river cruise on the Danube
In August I took a short cruise with Avalon, starting with the cultural jewel of Vienna and passing through Austria’s scenic Wachau Valley until we reached Melk Abbey and disembarked at Linz. In Vienna we learned how to bake bread Austrian style, enjoyed the coffee culture and got to know the famous Lippizanner stallions in the Spanish Riding School. I also had the chance to try out many of the active excursions on offer, cycling past orchards heavy with plums and canoing down river with views of well kept vines in neat rows along the hillside.
Read More: Getting active in Austria’s Wachau Valley
Summer in Bristol
This year I’ve tried to enjoy more of my home town of Bristol, especially in the summer when there are so many festivals and things going on. I’ve discovered so much more of what’s on my own doorstep with levels of creativity and cool that had previously passed me by. In 2017 I hope to connect even more with all the fabulous things going on in Bristol so if you are thinking of paying a visit do let me know and I’ll be happy to give you some recommendations.
September – Hiking in the Dolomites South Tyrol
Every year my friend Julia and I set off for a mountain hiking holiday, and this year we chose the South Tyrol in Northern Italy for our girl’s own adventure. Setting off from the luxurious Hotel Cyprianerhof, we made a circular route around the Rosengarten or Catinaccio range, staying in the mountain huts of the Dolomites. The trip gave us the challenge of climbing over high mountain passes and huts with limited facilities (what no shower?) but rewarded us with amazing views and a sense of achievement when we returned to Cyrianerhof for a well earned aperitif admiring the peaks we had climbed over.
October – a sunshine break in Aruba
October took me for some much needed sunshine to Aruba in the Dutch Antilles. I found a warm welcome at Amsterdam Manor Resort, indeed everywhere on Aruba which describes itself as “One Happy Island”. I found an island of contrasts – on one side a well developed tourist strip with white sand beaches, on the other a wild northern shore with waves breaking onto the jagged rocks and little in the way of development. There’s a sophisticated and cosmopolitan food scene and I loved the street art murals in San Nicholas, showing an unexpected side of the Caribbean.
Read More: My 10 favourite things about Aruba
November – 48 Hours in Florence
With the summer over and Christmas in sight, I nipped off to Florence for a weekend break with Citalia, to get a quick fix of culture and good food. Of course I saw the best known sights, like the Duomo and the David but also took some time to soak up the atmosphere and charm of this ancient city set in the heart of Tuscany. I loved the bustle and great food in the Mercado Centrale where I found a local tripe festival in full swing, dipped into the Salvador Ferragamo shoe museum and wandered through the Boboli gardens behind the Pitti Palace with views over the teracotta roofs of Florence.
Read More: How to spend a perfect weekend in Florence
December – Finding the Christmas spirit in Coburg, Germany
My final trip of 2016 took me to Coburg in Germany, where early in December we caught the first weekend of the Christmas Markets to soak up some seasonal spirit. This pretty town, with medieval buildings clustered around the town square, was also the birthplace of Prince Albert, consort of Queen Victoria who visited Coburg several times. As well as enjoying the mulled wine and Coburger Bratwurst cooked over a smoky wood fire, we visited the elegant palaces of Ehrenberg, Rosenhau and the Veste fortress overlooking the town where Martin Luther stayed and worked for a few months.
What’s next for 2017?
At the moment the New Year is wide open for travel plans with just a few things pencilled in and lots of possibilities. So far I’ll be off to:
Dublin in January – my son has just started university at Trinity College, Dublin so I hope to pay him a visit with my parents. You can read about our last trip – 10 fun things we did on a weekend in Dublin
Seefeld, Austria in February – as a travel blogger I often come across places on blog trips that I want to return to with the family and Seefeld was one of them. I was there in September 2015 on a walking holiday and fell in love with the pretty resort of Seefeld which is also a popular winter-snow destination. I’ll be returning there in February to try out some of the outdoor snow activities like cross-country ski, snow-shoe and winter hiking with my husband and friends. I’ll be trying to have a proper holiday (believe it or not blog trips do involve quite a lot of work!) but I’ll still be posting some photos on my social media channels.
Otherwise I have on my wish list to see more of the Caribbean, Canada and generally explore some new destinations further afield as well as enjoying all the great stuff in Bristol where I live.
Whatever your plans for 2017, I hope that health, peace and happiness follow you, wherever you travel this year.
In this guest post, Stefan Arestis of Nomadic Boys takes us on a delicious journey around his favourite foods in Argentina, from Mate to Malbec and Empanadas to Chimichurri.
Argentina is well known for its many parilla steak houses and for good reason. With more cattle than people, a gathering in Argentina with friends and family, on a Sunday for an asado barbecue, is a meat lover’s paradise.
But there’s more to Argentina than just consuming your body weight of cow meat. After two months travelling in Buenos Aires and across the country, here are my eight favorite foods of Argentina:
1. Milanesa a la Napolitana
Milanesas are breaded seasoned meat fillets, which are dipped into egg, covered in bread crumbs then fried. They are like Austrian schnitzels but beef is more commonly used instead of pork. Milanesas are a nod to the large Italian influence in Argentina after millions emigrated in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
The milanesa a la napolitana, like the napolitana pizza adds a layer of tomato sauce, mozzarella and ham. It was named after the restaurant Nápoli in Buenos Aires where it was created in the late 1940s and has now become one of the most popular Argentinian foods. When asking our local friends what they miss most from Argentina, they will frequently say they crave a milanesa a la napolitana, washed down of course with the most popular drink…
2. Mate: herbal tea
Mate (pronounced MAHteh) is an institution here. The Argentinians are proud, passionate mate drinkers: it’s ingrained in the culture, the focal point in social gatherings, handed around for everyone to share. Whether you’re in a business meeting, out in the park with a group of friends or buying a ticket at the bus station, you can be sure to see the iconic flask with pot and metal straw.
Mate is a black herbal tea made from the yerba mate herb, grown in the Northeast Argentinian provinces of Misiones and Corrientes. To prepare the mate, the herb is placed in the mate pot (called a gourd), hot water (not boiling) added and it is then served from a metal straw (called the bombilla).
We visited the touristy Iguazu Falls in Northeast Argentina, which had an hour long queue for the train to take you up to the Devil’s Throat. For the Argentinians no problem – whip out the large flask, packet of mate herbs, gourd and bombilla and very soon a mate will be passed round. Completely impractical, very sociable, yet oh so very Argentinian!
3. Dulce de Leche Cookies
Dulce de leche is caramelised milk, used everywhere, particularly in all dessert. This stuff is like the blood of Argentina. One particular dulce de leche dessert are alfajor de maicena cookies. These are 2 vanilla biscuits, which are bound using (lots of) dulce de leche, which is then coated with grated coconut.
Extremely delicious but goodbye abs!
Empanadas are a popular snack either to accompany meals or as an appetiser. They are stuffed pastries with a variety of fillings, which are then fried or baked. Empanada comes from the Spanish word empanar.
The most popular filling is confusingly called carne, which means meat, but refers to beef. Other popular fillings include pollo (chicken) jamón (ham) and queso (cheese).
The tastiest empanadas we tried are the spicy empanadas con carne picada North Argentina. The indigenous Quechua influence means that more spices are used in cooking giving them more flavor.
5. Choripán: chorizo hot dog snacks
Choripán is the Argentinian hotdog, served with a chorizo sausage and salad. The name describes its ingredients: chori for the chorizo and pan meaning bread.
Like empanadas, choripáns are finger food, which you’re likely to eat as an appetiser at an asado or as a snack at a Boca Juniors football match.
6. Ice Cream
Argentinian ice cream or helado is world famous and another nod to the strong Italian influence in Argentina.
Opinions about where you can try the best helado in Argentina varies with immense volatility. The Porteños will say it’s in Buenos Aires, the Rosarians will swear it’s in Rosario, the Cordobeses will have you believe it’s in Córdoba etc…!
You can be sure an helado in Argentina will blow your mind, and with flavours like dulce de leche or tiramisu, you can’t go wrong.
7. Malbec Wine
Argentina developed a world famous wine reputation over the last 20-30 years, primarily as a result of several grapes brought over from France. These grapes didn’t grow as well in French vineyards, but the climate in Mendoza meant they instead flourished here, particularly Malbec.
Argentina is one of the few countries we’ve been to where wine is more popular than the national beer – Quilmes. A few glasses of Malbec nicely complement every steak meal. We tried so many delicious brands that it’s hard to pinpoint a particular favorite.
Chimichurri is like the Argentinian pesto. It is a parsley/garlic based sauce, usually used to marinate grilled meats or as a dipping sauce for bread and choripáns.
There is no uniform recipe, but our recipe for Argentinian chimichurri includes finely chopped parsley, minced garlic, olive oil, dried oregano, chilli pepper and vinegar.
In most restaurants in Argentina, you will first be presented with a bread basket, which will come with a variety of dipping sauces, including chimichurri, as well as criolla (tomatoes and raw onions) and provencal (chopped parsley and garlic in oil).
More things to see in South America
About the Author: Stefan Arestis is one half of The Nomadic Boys, a gay couple with Stefan (Greek) and Sebastien (French) travelling the world on a 2-year adventure which started in Asia in 2014. They are currently on a big trip around Latin America starting south in Buenos Aires and slowly working their way North.