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.

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. 

Travel: Beach Bummage 

I have nothing of consequence to note. Haha. As much as I love the backpacking culture of seeing and experiencing as much as possible within a limited timeframe I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it is EXHAUSTING. Traipsing around Central and Southern India with a friend that was native born-and-raised in Bombay has been uniquely authentic, but I am due for some serious R&R!


The exciting think about today is that a group of us from the hostel spent the evening exploring the Arpora Night Market. For me, it was very remniscient of Taiwan’s night markets, with stalls offering anything you could possibly want, in addition to the quintessential souvenirs.


The market sprawls over a large outdoor are and is only active and open during the main tourist season. Divided into a Lower, Central, and Upper Field, it is difficult not to get lost and overwhelmed by the crowds.

We browsed everything from traditional handicrafts to huge assortments of spices and teas. There were booths after booths brimming with Kashmiri carpets, Pashmina scarves, silver jewelry, and unique art creations. You name it and you can find it! There is also a food court centered around a stage that hosts an array of live music from Rock to Indian Classical.


I was both overwhelmed and in awe. It is impossible to miss the fervor in the air, and although similar to previous night markets I experienced as a child, the Arpora Night Market had its own distinctive character. It offered the diversity of a global experience without overshadowing the unmistakeable hints of a typical Indian Bazaar.


Travel: Matrimony

Today, I was fortunate enough to garner an invitation to a traditional Hindu wedding as Nick’s plus one. (You may recall the various Saree shopping debacles that we encountered in Jaipur and Jodhpur).

imageUnlike a typical wedding, which tends to be a more serious and understated affair, Indian weddings are loud and energetic. The one we attended, was actually a 3-day affair (we chose to attend only 1 of 3).

It started with a Swagatam “welcome” ceremony. Under the raucous beat of drums, the Baraat “groom’s procession party,” consisting of family and friends, joyously dance into the building. In contrast, the bride’s entrance is a much more solemn affair.


The introduction between the families is made, and there is a Jai Mala, a garland exchange between the bridge and groom. During all of this, there is a constant flow of food and drinks circulating the room.

imageHonestly I had no idea what was happening for the majority of the ceremony, and neither did Nick. We had hoped to make the reception, which is when the bride and groom both perform separate choreographed dances to Bollywood music with their bridesmaids and groomsmen, respectively, but apparently that had occurred the day before. Nick’s friends, did however, regale us with some of their drunken stories from the previous night.

imageThe most significant part of the ceremony is the Saptapadi, a 7-step ritual. The bride and groom have a part of their clothing tied together, and they walk around the fire 7 times. The fire, represents Yajna, the divine witness and each circle represents the oaths that they make to each other. It is after this event that the bride and groom are officially considered married.

It was a vibrant affair filled with colorful clothing, diverse sarees, intricate henna, and shiny jewelry. The food selection allowed me to try some curries I’ve never had before. Nick and I even became best friends with the Chai-Man! I do wish, however, that I had known what was going on. Everyone is so busy carrying on conversation during the ceremony, that it was impossible to know what was occurring on the dais. 😦





Travel: Mozart’s Town and the Sound of Music

My primary motivation for visiting Salzburg was to walk in the steps of Mozart. It was only after arriving that I realized that the city had also gained fame as the home of Maria Von Trapp and the location for the movie ‘The Sound of Music.’ As such, my day was filled with musical melodies and dancing magic.

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First stop was at the Mirabell Palace. Although I couldn’t go in, I enjoyed walking amongst its meticulously landscaped garden, and dancing around the Horse Fountain (Do-Re-Mi Scene). The building was constructed in 1606 at the behest of Prince-Archbishop Wolf Dietrich Raitenau according to Italian and French models for his mistress. He was deposed in 1612, and during this era, the palace received its current italian name, bella meaning ‘Amazing’ or ‘Wonderful’. Subject to much remodeling through the years, its current  neoclassical appearance dates from about 1818.

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Next, I visited the birthplace of the only Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. If you don’t recognize the name, then I am no longer your friend. 😛 He is recognized as one of the most prolific and influential composer’s of the Classical Era. As a child, Mozart showed prodigious ability; He was competent on Keyboard and Violin, and regularly composing pieces and performing for European Royalty from the age of five. Eventually, he grew restless, and was dismissed from his Salzburg position while visiting Vienna in 1781. It is in Vienna where he spent his final years composing some of his best-known symphonies, concertos, and operas.

Last on the list for my meandering day was a stroll through the Hellbrunn Palace. The Schloss is best known for its jeux d’eau, the magical fountain filled with unexpected water delights. The water-park was conceived by Markus Sittikus von Hohenems, an individual with a keen sense of humour who employed practical jokes, which were performed on guests. I personally was incapable of avoiding these deviously hidden mechanisms that would sprout water up through seats and overhead when least expected. Water-pressure also allowed for ingeniously designed mobile figurines, best illustrated in a musical-playing theatre that was built-in 1750. There was always one location where the Archbishop would stand or sit, that was protected from water.

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So, I know the pictures here look the same. but if you look closely between the two, you will notice an extension and retraction of the face’s tongue. This is achieved by a small pail mechanism, that when filled, lowers the jaw, automatically extending the tongue. Once emptied, it retracts, and the process repeats.

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I stopped by the Glass Gazebo on my way out to relive the ‘Sixteen going on Seventeen’ moment from the movie.

Travel: Guten Tag Salzburg

Leaving South Germany, I returned to Austria and the city of Salzburg, home to the classical composer Wolfgang Mozart, but made infamous by the movie Sound of Music. It took me a little longer than usual to get my bearings after checking in; I was also generally indecisive about my wardrobe options given the contrasting weather report and what I was witnessing outside. Eventually, feeling optimistic, I opted for a sundress and light cardigan (as you will see in my pictures); this proved to be an unfortunate choice, we will get to that reason later.

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Nonetheless, I enjoyed a leisurely stroll through the beautiful city, capturing a multitude of scenic views on my way, while simultaneously absorbing some sunshine. At the base of the mountain, I had the option to be lazy and take the funicular up, or hike 20 mins to the castle. Seeing how I am asian and enjoy conserving money that is better spent on quality food, not to mention the warm weather, I opted to complete the climb.

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At the top of the hill lies the Hohensalzburg Castle, more commonly called the Salzburg Fortress. Construction began in 1077 under Archbishop Gebhard von Helfenstein. During this period, the Archbishops of Salzburg were powerful political figures, which necessitated expansion of the castle in order to protect their interest. Most notably, Gebhard’s conflict with Emperor Henry IV during the Investiture Controversy.

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The fortress only came under siege once during the German Peasants’ War in 1525. A group of miners  farmers, and townspeople attempted and failed to oust Prince-Archbishop Matthaus Lang.


Notable Historical events further include:

  • Death of the deposed Archbishop Wolf Dietrick von Raitenau while imprisoned here.
  • Surrender to French troops during the Napoleonic War of the Second Coalition in 1800.

It was then used as a barracks, storage depot, and dungeon before being abandoned as a military outpost in 1861.

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As I this hill also contained the Nonnberg Abbey, I opted to head in this direction as I left the castle. Unfortunately, dark and ominous clouds encroached on the sky. Believing it would rain as the weather forecast predicted, I was prepared with an umbrella. Therefore I continued to amble along the cobblestone road.

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Turns out, that it did not rain as anticipated; Rather, it started to hail. First, the torrents came down as small pebbles, however they immediately progressed to index-nail sized rocks. It was at this point that I used my better judgement to wait out the hail-storm under a bridge. The wind also picked up, and my think cardigan and skirt did not quite provide the necessary insulation. Hail finally gave way to rain, and rather than continue to be miserable and cornered, I completed the rest of the walk to the Abbey.

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Alas! I was unaware that we were only able to visit the church. Nonnberg Abbey is known to be the abbey at which Maria August Kutschera was a postulant after World War I. It is her life that was the basis for ‘The Sound of Music’ film.

In the short time it took me to meander a circuit around the pews. The sun re-emerged scattering light and warmth across the garden. What strange and unpredictable weather!

Travel: Beethoven’s Bonn

I took a day trip to the city of Bonn, the birthplace of the beloved Beethoven. Its history dates from 11 BC when the Roman Army was stationed at the current historical center, and consequently expanded this area into a military fort in the coming centuries. More recently, it was recognized as the  provisional capital of West Germany from 1949 to 1990 before it was relocated to the current Berlin.

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The main allure of this town was Ludwig Van Beethoven. He is a composer who I have long admired, and I cannot help but admit that my favorite pieces continue to be Fur Elise and his iconic 5th Symphony.

Beethoven was born to Johann van Beethoven and Maria Keverich in 1770, although his exact birth date is unclear. It is generally taken to be the 16th of December, the date before his baptism in St. Regius, as it was a tradition for children of that era to be baptized the day after birth.

He was one of seven children, however only him and two younger brothers survived infancy.

2013-05-02 04.56.58His primary music teacher was his father, but his methodology was harsh, and as an infant Beethoven is said to have stood over the keyboard in tears. Other local teachers rounded out his musical education with violin and viola. His talent was blatantly apparent even at a young age, and his father claimed that the boy was a child prodigy, and used the age of 6 (he was actually 7) on posters advertising for Beethoven’s first public appearance.

2013-05-02 04.26.50In the years following 1779, Beethoven studied primarily under Christian Gottlob Neefe, the official appointed Church Organist. It was Neefe that helped him publish his first compisition – a set of keyboard variations, = and later obtain a fully paid employee church organist position in 1784. This was a vital turning point in the teen’s history, as after his mother’s death, his father lapsed into alcoholism, which forced young Beethoven to be the primary source of income for his family.


Beethoven officially left Bonn for Vienna in 1792; his father died shortly after this.

He died on 26 March 1827. The picture below is his ‘death mask’ it was typically in that day to remove all of the individual’s hair to save as a keepsake.

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