Cusco: Temple of the Sun

This morning I let Tom sleep in a bit while I worked to catch up on my blogging. Our hostel only gives us free breakfast until 10:30 AM, so when he didn’t show up by 10:10 I started worrying that he was still cocooned in bed. Just after I packed up my gear and got up to wake the sleepyhead, he emerged up the stairs. Pushing it a little close don’t you think babe? Whew!

After a late start, our first stop was Qorikancha, which means gold enclosure (quri kancha) in Quechua. Quechua is an ancient Incan language that is still the most widely spoken language by the indigenous peoples of the Americas. There are about 8-10 million speakers worldwide and 13% of Peruvians speak Quechua. While our guide the previous day mentioned that it is not a formally taught language in school, it is commonly used at home and parents teach their children who continue to keep the language alive with their children. 

On the foundations of the original Qorikancha now rests the Church of Santo Domingo as the Spanish conquistadores demolished the original Incan building to make way for, you guessed it, more Catholic structures. Interestingly enough some of the original Incan masonry remains intact inside, which allows you to see how artful and intricate their stone working skills were.

The walls of the original temple of the sun were once covered in golden sheets, and the courtyard filled with statues. Unfortunately, the Incans themselves were forced to harvest from this richness when the Spanish demanded a gold ransom for the life of the 13th Incan emperor Atahualpa.

After leaving Qorikancha, we stopped by to visit the Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco (CTTC) right next door. An organization established in 1996 by Andean weavers, it provides a free museum to the public to educate visitors on how the coat of an alpaca, lama, or sheep etc., is made into yarn and than transformed into a final product in the form of bags, clothing, and accessories. It’s main mission is to preserve cusuqueñan textile traditions and support the indigenous artisans. 


We then roamed through the local San Pedro Market before heading back to the Plaza de Armas to visit the Church of the Society of Jesus, once again a religious church (this time Jesuit) built on the remains of a former Incan temple. It is best known for a painting depicting the wedding of Martín García de Loyola, the nephew of Ignatius Loyola to Beatriz, the great-niece of the Inca ruler Tupac Amaru. (Tom was very grateful that no pictures were allowed).

After a brief reprieve in the hostel, we went to Kion, just off the main square to try some Chaufa, the Peruvian version of fried rice. It was very tasty and filling and we were both happy pandas. 🙂
 

We then took an evening stroll through San Blas and were able to successfully locate the infamous twelve angle stone. The stone is carved from diorite and it is the precision and finishing of the fit that make this rock a national heritage object. A passerby mentioned that it was 2 meters deep (about 6.5 ft) and that the 12 angles actually refer to the 12 Royal Incan families, 6 of which lived on the north side of the wall and 6 which lived on the south side. 

P.S. The Qorikancha had a fourteen angle stone! It was cut such that 3 sides of the stone served as the different faces of a door jamb. 

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Cusco: Historic Capital of Peru

I apologize for skipping a write-up about yesterday, but since it was predominantly a travel day there really isn’t much to tell. I’ll try to circle back to it later…

Today, as we typically try to do, we started off in our new city with a walking tour. (After picking up some Latte’s and Mocha’s to go of course!) Our first stop was the Plaza De Armas. As I had previously written, pretty much any major South American  city has a main square due to a Spanish doctrine and Cusco is no different.



The Plaza de Armas, also known as the “Square of the Warrior,” was once the location of many former Incan Palaces. It seems that each ruler chose to build his own rather than matriculating into the house of his predecessor. Unfortunately, these palaces were plundered and demolished by the Spanish around 1535, only to have Catholic Churches built on the same foundations. It is in this manner that the Spanish sought to systematically illegitimize the indigenous religion and force their own beliefs on the locals.

After leaving the Plaza de Armas, we stopped by an open plaza in order to listen to some music that was being played by a man trying very diligently to keep the music of the indigenous people alive and thriving. (I wish I had video privileges with WordPress, but since I don’t I’ll have to circle back and post a video when I get the chance.) The accoustic experience was incredibly moving and I love how vibrantly music can represent the ‘color’ of the people.

 

There were also some very cute Alpacas. A local also brought a baby alpaca to roam, but when I tried to take a picture she angrily snatched up the kid and yelled at me saying that photos were not free (even though another lady had freely snapped some shots just before me). I had heard that this happens often in Cusco, but I was definitely put off that she hadn’t calmly mentioned it earlier when she was just sitting silently nearby. 

We then moved on to explore the old Incan Walls (which I will write about more later), and roam the streets of San Blas, one of the oldest and most artistic/picturesque neighborhoods of the city, before ascending some steps to wrap up our tour with a Pisco Sour and Ceviche demonstration. The view from this bar of Cusco city was just phenomenal!

On our way we also stopped in front of a store with a life-sized figurine of Eneko. I’m having difficulty finding online sources about this superstition, but apparently most local households have a 6-12″ figure of him in their home. If you have any troubles finding jobs, or love, or buying a house etc., apparently you simply tape a small model of the dilemma in question to his back and it will soon be resolved!

After the tour ended, Tom and I grabbed nachos for some minor sustenance (they were sub-par as a expected), before we decided to head the rest of the way up the hill to visit Saksaywaman (“Sexy Women” LoL). It was about a 30-min walk/hike through San Blas and upward. Thankfully we took stops as needed, and even accidentally stumbled upon the shop of Sabino Huaynan, a famous luthier that is only one of two in the whole of Peru!


Saksaywaman,p (spelled in a variety of different ways depending on who you ask), had its first sections built by the Kilke Culture around 1100 AD, and was expanded upon by the Incas in the 13th century. The stone walls were constructed of large stones cut and ground precisely to allow them to fit together without the need for mortar.

Cristo Bianco

I really enjoyed the site, but my only gripe is that a 1-Day entree fee to see 4 sites, 3 of which are not easily accessible by foot was a whomping 70 soles and they didn’t accept card! After we paid, Tom and I had a mere 10 soles between the two of us. 😦 We found out later that the Tourist Ticket, at 130 soles, gave you a total of 10-days to see all the major sites; not that either of us had enough cash on us at the time. Farewell $22! Lima was not expensive at all compared to this, the highest we ever paid for one site was 30 soles. 

Near the end of our visit, it started drizzling, and than raining, and then pelting us with hail. I knew that the weather in the mountains can be precarious, but neither Tom or I had packed our rain jackets, so not only did we get wet, but Tom received some battle wounds as well. Thankfully we were able to find temporary shelter until the worst of it passed and then made a precarious, slippery descent down the stone steps. 

We finally returned to the hostel around 6 PM, and after a brief reprieve headed out to try Papachos, a burger joint founded by the owner of Astrid Y Gaston. I chose it as an option because they had an Alpaca Burger that I simply HAD to try. Unfortunately Tom did not enjoy his meal as much as the temperature was more medium-rare, the meat not tender, and the flavor lacking.

Lima: Museo Larco and The Moches

Reader Beware: Sone of the pictures and text in this article will have references alluding to the act of copulation and are not for juvenile eyes.

All we had left on our Lima List after the last three days were the Larco Museum and the Museum of Anthropologie. Unfortunately they were put off until the last minute because the Municipal buses didn’t run there and we knew we didn’t want to risk taking any questionable taxis, so the coordination was a little more challenging. Thankfully, due to the use of some broken spanish, the Google Maps GPS, and some kind-hearted locals, we were able to find our way.

We ended up taking a local bus instead of a combi for which both Tom and myself were very grateful. The combis routes are discernible from the main streets written on the side of the vans, but the operator will literally hop out of the sliding door while the driver slows down, yell out the major avenues, wait briefly for the locals to hop on, and zoom off to the next stop almost immediately! We saw this happen regularly everywhere we walked and simply could not wrap our minds around it. Our takeaway from our time in Lima so far is that traffic and transportation is chaotic at best.

The local bus dropped us off about a 10-min walk away from Museo Larco in the Pueblo Libre district. While there were some discernible differences between this district and other two districts that we have spent time in (Miraflores and Barranco), it was clear that the area was well maintained and representative of a middle-class population. It is definitely nice to get away from the hubbub of the main tourist destinations!

Museo Larco is said to be a must-see for all visitors to Lima (although Tom was not quite on board with my adamant desire to go). It is a privately owned museum that houses Pre-Colombian art purchased by Rafael Larco Hoyle around 1925. Rafael soon realized that Peruvian Archeaology was in its infancy and set out on a course for intense Anthropologie research thereby establishing a Peruvian chronology for ancient cultures that has remained valid to this day.

The biggest draw for visitors is the hall of erotic pottery. The vessels, or what we call art in the present, were created by the Moche Civilization who flourished in Northern Peru between 100 AD and 700 AD. To them, sex was not something to be rated-R, or blurred out on television, or even talked about behind closed doors. Sex was a celebration of joining, of life, and of death. This was exemplified by the various pieces of pottery depicting sexual intercourse, favors, and animal copulation.

The Moches placed an emphasis on the concept of circulation and flow. This is best exemplified by the adjacent piece. The woman’s body has been sculpted with an exaggeratedly large vulva, which allows liquids to both fill the orifice and flow from it. The position of the figure alludes to both childbirth and a sexual act, symbolizing a woman’s ability to act as a vessel to accept the insemination of life and likewise bring life into the world.

Personally I found the imagery and symbolism fascinating and got caught up in a photography blackhole! Tom lost interest quite a while before me, but since the museum had free-wifi, he used the chance to sit in the sun and catch up on emails and social media. Unfortunately we ended up not making it to the Museum of Anthropologie….


We finished off our day at, you guessed it! An artisan coffee shop called Origen Tostadores de Cafe where I enjoyed a Chocolate Affogato pick-me-up. ^_^

Lima: Socio-Economic Disparity

The Barranco district is only 1 out of the 43 districts of Lima. In the 19th century, it was a fashionable beach resort for the Limeño arostocracy who spent many summers here and in the neighboring Chorrillos neighborhood. Today it is considered one of the most bohemian neighborhoods and is the workshop to many artists, designers, and musicians.

The area, along with Miraflores, also happens to be one of the most expensive districts to live in, averaging about 300 soles a month in rent when the average minimum wage earns only earns about 850 soles a month. (We are talking about $100 USD and $280 USD respectively.

My favorite part was walking along the Bajada de los Baños, a walkway that leads to the sea that was naturally formed by erosion via water runoff. It was lined with unique and colorful street murals from a variety of artists that have to submit applications for approval to execute their visions.


We then walked along the cliffs to discuss the economic disparity between districts like Miraflores and Barranco versus the other 41. The mayors invest the taxes to improve the common areas (I.e parks, cleanliness, and safety) and overly improve the atmosphere of the neighborhood, choices that make them such highly prized zip codes. They also pay for the netting along the cliffs to prevent rock falls from injuring the people driving on the highway below; they are the only two cliffside areas that have done this.


After that, we u-turned to walk over the Bajada via the Internet Puente de los Sospiros. As a group we took a breath and tried to hold it while walking across. The superstition is that if you can do this while thinking of a wish, it will come true. I ended up having to run across the bridge twice for a successful attempt! (I forgot to think about a wish on my crossing the first time lol, and ended up doing three in total, because I failed when we did it as a group).

We stuck around to finish our evening at the Ayahuasca Bar where I had a flight of Pisco Sours and Tom had to help me out since Pisco typically has minimum alcohol content of 40%!

 Copenhagen: Silver Lions! Oh My!

This morning, Tom and I went in different directions for our morning fuel. We had passed a Matcha Bar the day before and I just HAD to try their latte. Tom, of course, needed his coffee. We then ventured off on our first stop of the day, Rosenborg Castle. (Have your noticed that in Denmark they seem to use borg, instead of berg, or burg?)

The Rosenborg Castle is over 400 years old! It was built as a summer residence for Christian IV in 1606 and reached its current form, after numerous expansions in 1624. It was built in the Dutch Renaissance style as exemplified by the symmetry of the building’s form and the orderly lintel protrusions (not to mention the systematic choice of brick colors and window locations).

The interior has since been converted to a museum replicating the decor of the original rooms, including the King’s Bathroom, and showcasing tapestries commemorating battles between Sweden and Denmark.

My favorite room of all was the Knight’s Hall! Even though it was originally intended to be a ballroom, it now houses the coronation thrones of the Kings and Queens of Denmark, whose seats of power are bravely protected by the three life-size silver lions standing guard. The detailing of each lion, and their facial features, was beyond exquisite!

Vaults underneath the castle house the Crown Jewels. Just strolling through the collection made me reminisce about my younger dreams of becoming medieval royalty. That is until I recalled the formerly mentioned Royal Bathroom. Hygienic conditions were not nearly as good as they are today! 

image

After visiting Rosenborg Castle we took a casual stroll over to the National Gallery of Denmark and perused the art collections for a bit before enjoying the afternoon sunshine. 


Stockholm: Ticking Hands of Time

 We woke up first thing this morning and grabbed breakfast to-go during our walk to City Hall. Stockholm City Hall is the center of governance for the municipality, and also the location of the Nobel Prize banquet every year on December 10th. You may recall my previous post from Oslo concerning the Peace Prize. However, it is the only Nobel Prize that is presented in Oslo rather than in Stockholm. This is because Alfred Nobel specifically wrote this request into his will. Originally there were only 5 awards, Chemistry, Physics, Literature, Medicine, and Peace to award individuals who had made significant contributions to the progress and welfare of humanity. The Economics award was added by the Swedish Central Bank in 1968.

Interestingly enough, City Hall is not an old building. It’s celebrating only its 93rd birthday this year. Designed by the architect After City Hall, we stopped for lunch before heading over to the Vasa Museum. The Vasa is a the only almost fully intact Ragner Östberg in 1923, he desired for the building’s structure and facade to look old without actually being old. Ragnar drew inspiration for the interior rooms from a variety of historical eras, but also made major design changes as the building progressed and his whims of fancy changed. 

 

The Blue Room (although not actually blue) recalls the elegance of a wide open Italian piazza, an assembly space for various events and banquets. Knowing that patrons would be making their entrance via the grand staircase, Ragnar included a star on the far-opposite wall. It is said that if a person focuses on that star as they descend, they will maintain proper posture while all eyes are focused on them; and so far, no Nobel Prize winner has ever tripped or fallen as they enter a banquet in their honor. 

 The Gold Room is opulently decorated in colorful gold mosaic, bringing to mind the glitz and glamour of the Byzantine Empire. The artist and his assistants only had two years to complete the room’s walls prior to a certain event that had to take place on a specific date for historical reasons. As a result, some mistakes were made with no time to correct them. The depicted castle is missing one of the three crowns (this was supposed to depict Tre Kronos, the Castle of Three Crowns), and the king riding the horse is without a head due to scaling errors (although it is historically accurate since the king was eventually beheaded). 

After City Hall, we stopped for lunch before heading over to the Vasa Museum. The Vasa is a the only almost fully intact (98% original) 17th century ship to ever be recovered. The ship was built on the orders of King Gustavus Aldophus in due part because of a military expansion campaign he initiated with Poland-Lithuania and his desire to enter the Thirty Years War. At the time, Sweden’s political and military power was an afterthought and neighboring nations barely acknowledged its presence. Gustavus is widely regarded as one of the greatest military leaders of all time. He was progressive in his governance, innovative in his military weaponry, raised Sweden to be a Great Power.

 The Vasa would have been the first double-decker war ship of the time, and one of the most powerfully armed vessels in the world. She was constructed under contract by private Dutch entrepreneurs between 1626 and 1627. The ship was richly decorated in symbolic carvings illustrating his ambition for Sweden. However, due to severe time constraints, and a lack of expertise (as no one in the country had ever built a double-decker), the Vasa’s final design proved too unstable and top-heavy. 

 On her maiden voyage on August 10, 1628, she was only 1300 meters out of port when a wind caused her to keel and ultimately sink. Fortunately for us, the ship-channel she sank in has a low salt content. This allowed her to lay relatively undisturbed and remarkably well-preserved for over 300 years. The Vasa did not sail again until her hull was lifted from the harbor floor in 1961.

 

I was personally astounded by the size of the ship. She is the first thing you see when you enter the museum, and she simply dominates the room. I couldn’t stop taking pictures of her intricate carvings and exquisite detail.

Our take-away from the day is that time is a double-edged sword. For some, time is a luxury, while for others, time is a looming specter. In both the cases of the Gold Room and the Vasa, had the designers had sufficient time to complete the tasks at hand, we believe that the inherent flaws could have been avoided. 

 Speaking of time, Tom and I spent the rest of our afternoon enjoy the Swedish tradition of Fika. Fika is equivalent to the British Tradition of tea-time, where people take a break from their day to savor some coffee and sweets. We went to Vette-Kaffen a traditional Fika institution. It was both tasty and relaxing. 🙂

Stockholm: Voulez Vous La Musique

Anyone born in the in the 50s, or the child of parents born in this period are familiar with the band ABBA. To date, they are the most successful pop band to emerge from Sweden, and have been only second in success to the Beatles. Furthermore, they are the only band from a non-English speaking country to ever top the charts of English-speaking countries.   

 I remember fondly the songs I listened to with my mother as a child, popular hits such as the “Dancing Queen,” “Mamma Mia,” and “S.O.S.” would regularly feature on our car rides. Therefore, how could we not take some time to visit the ABBA Museum while we were in Stockholm?

 The museum documents how Agnetha, Björn, Benni, and Anni-Frid found their musical starts. It then demonstrates their creative process and the transpiring events that served as their inspiration. Memorabilia, outfits, and props are proudly on display while imaginative use of technology allows you to do anything from record a vocal track, dance in a music video, or take the stage as their fifth member alongside their holograms. 

 Tom and I tried the first two with mixed results. It turns out (although I’ve always known this), that I am beyond tone-deaf. Once I bowed out of trying to sing Dancing Queen, Tom’s solo vocals gained a much better score. It was abundantly clear that my inability to carry a pitch was bringing the team down. :(. We also tried to dance in a music-video but couldn’t manage to stop laughing. The hologrammed stage would have been interesting, but there was a line, and the performance would have been public to any passerbys. Stage-fright, a lack of dance moves, and not being a fan-girl were sufficient enough reason to hold back.

  
We then headed to the highest point in Stockholm to enjoy a breather and take in a scenic view of the city before heading back to the hostel for a break.

 After a brief repose, we grabbed dinner at an Irish Pub nearby before heading on an adventurous walking tour of our own. There are some well-documented odd, secret, and hidden items to be found around Gamla Stan, so Tom and I went on a hunt calling it our own Ghost Walk (quite a few of them were particularly morbid). We visited Hell, commemorated the Stockholm Bloodbath, and admired a Bartizan.

 One of my favorite stops was the statue, “Boy Looking at the Moon.” Arguably the smallest public sculpture in Sweden, it was sculpted by Liss Eriksson in 1954 and retells the memory of his childhood when he would sit on his bed and stare at the moon through his window on sleepless nights. It is made of sandstone and wrought iron. Superstition says that he will bring good luck to anyone that rubs his head. He was wearing a cute knit hat and scarf when we visited him, a gift that Stockholmers like to provide him with during the winter, so we merely patted him on his head. 

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