Lima: Ciudad de los Reyes

Lima is also known as the “City of Kings,” because Francisco Pizzaro, the Spanish conquistador, founded the city in 1535 on the Catholic holiday of Epiphany, the day when the three kings visited the baby Jesus. Pizzaro was also the one who established the location of the Plaza de Los Armas, our next stop. He did this to follow a mandate set by King Charles I of Spain in 1523, Procedures for the creation of cities in the New World. It required that, after outlining a city’s plan, growth was to radiate outward  centered on the square shape of the plaza. 


Our guide then pointed out some key buildings surrounding the square including the Lima Cathedral, Archbishop’s Palace, Municipal Palace, Congress of the Republic, and Presidential Palace. (I’ll write more on these later as I’m hoping to find the opportunity to visit the interior of some of these buildings).

We then strolled through the Peruvian Gastronomy House, visited the interior of the Saint Dominic Church, stopped in Post Office Alley, and paused to view the Rimac River. The tour finished off with a sampling of four different varieties of Pisco, the national drink of Peru. (To be honest this free walking tour was less enjoyable than others that we have taken. The first guide felt cold and stand-offish, and the second kept having to switch between Spanish and English, so I felt that the information and history got lost in his struggle). 

We were able head back to visit the interiors of the Church and Convent of Santo Domingo. And for only 10 soles, I’d say that it was worth it! As usual, Tom got frustrated with my habit of excessive picture taking, but I couldn’t stop myself. I’m entranced by the concept of cloisters, and how an individual can have so much faith that they devote their entire lives to an order; In this case, the Third Order of Saint Dominic

The complex was originally built by Dominican Friars in 1549 but has been rebuilt or remodeled in the time since. It is recognized as the oldest religious site in Lima, and the land was given to Friar Vicente de Valverde, Francisco Pizzaro‘s right-hand man,  the one that Inca Atahualpa’s execution is attributed to. The baroque and Spanish influence of the structure is blatantly obvious from the paintings to the painted ceramic tiles. It is in this church that the remains of three very notable saints were found, San Juan Macías, Santa Rosa de Lima and San Martín de Porres.

After our first day with lots of walking (or training our cubicle feet to evolve into travel feet with 20,000 steps per my FitBit), we were both exhausted and starving. After some debate we settled on visiting La Lucha Sangucheria for dinner which was conveniently just around the corner from our hotel.

They are known for their juicy Chicharron Sandwhiches and man was I a happy panda! The roll was crispy on the outside but soft on the inside and the Chicharon was just the right amount of juicy on top of a bed of sweet potato and topped with lime marinated onions. It was soooo incredibly tasty. (Tom got a shredded chicken sandwich which he really enjoyed as well). We also split a Chicha Morada between us. It’s a traditional Peruvian Drink that is made from Purple Corn.  

After dinner we wandered through nearby Kennedy Park to explore the happenings going on. There was an outdoor flea market, a community dance night, and street artists selling their paintings. Tom and I both purchased caramel stuffed churros for dessert and then returned to our room where he promptly passed out (Who’s the older one now? :P), while I stayed up to finish my blog. 

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Lima: City of Kings

After a quick breakfast this morning, we hopped across the park to withdraw Peruvian soles. Despite online sources stating that US dollars were widely accepted in Lima, I’ve found that carrying the local currency always works to your benefit. (And something any international traveler should practice). We then used our newly acquired soles to….you guessed it! Grab our lattes! ^_^

After savoring our daily caffeine, we joined a free walking tour to downtown Lima. I, myself, am still on the fence about walking tours, but since Lima’s public transportation was confusing to us first-timers, and the taxis questionable at best, we decided that this was the best way to dip our toes in. 

On our way to grab a Metropolitano Bus we stopped by the local market for some free wandering time and tried some Aguaymantos from a vendor. (#1 below) It’s a fruit native to the high altitude regions of Peru, and is commonly known as a Peruvian Cherry or Cape Gooseberry. It grows inside a paper-like shell which had to be folded back to access the fruit.  The flavor was akin to that of a sour orange with the texture of a cherry. It was quite interesting and unexpected. 

I really love visiting local markets because they are always humming with life, expansive flavor options, and vibrant colors.

It took us about 30 mins to ride the bus downtown. And I cannot sing enough praises about how well-designed and efficient their system is.  The buses have designated lanes going in each direction in the center of the main streets that are completely isolated from local traffic. This means that the buses don’t get backed up by traffics or accidents and are able to run continuously without delay. I wish Houston would take some notes! (In Houston, the metrobuses share a carpool lane with public traffic, and it is only one lane that switches directionality depending on the time of day. Basically if some idiot has an accident, you are not any better off in a bus than a car when it comes to sitting still).


Our first stop was Plaza San Martín. It is a square designated to José de San Martín, the man celebrated as being the original, and first, Protector of Peru. José is seen as the prime leader behind southern South America’s struggle for independence from Spain and is seen as a national hero by both Peru, and his country of birth, Argentina. The statue we are standing in front of is his, and the lady below has a llama on her head. It’s a bit of a pun really, since llama means both Llama and Fire in Peru. 😂

Enroute: Houston to Lima

At last! It is time again for another adventure! Tom and I couldn’t be more excited to cross another continent off our list. (Although, I do have the advantage, as this is now my 4th continent, but only his 3rd).

Unfortunately, the major trade off with far-away places is the initial travel time required as an investment. This time was unfortunately no different. 😦 Since we opted to use a chunk of our mileage supply, the most efficient plane tickets came with a number of trade-offs.

The first and foremost one being that our flight was at 8:50 AM. Because of this, we had to drop our puppy, Hiro, off at his boarding appointment the evening before. We also had to wake up at 4:30 AM to make sure that we got to the airport by 6:00 AM at the latest. All after a final night of last minute errands and packing.

Then we had a 4-Hr layover in Costa Rica. It’s a short enough amount of time to not want to risk leaving the airport, but also a long enough timespan for you to get reasonably bored. Basically all we did was eat (two SmashBurger meals for a whopping $34!) and YouTube or Facebook; I read a few chapters on my Kindle as well. Amen to free wifi!

By the time we landed in Lima it was 8:45 PM! After a 45 Min bus ride, we FINALLY checked in to our hotel at 10 PM. We then promptly made a game plan for the day before passing out.

 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! 

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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. 


Copenhagen: A Perplexing Start

 

Tom had a perplexing start to his day. While we were waiting for our lattes at a table, we noticed a giant Rubik’s Cube right next to us. Obviously, being the engineers we are, we started solving it piece by piece. Ironically, neither one of us could remember how to solve the last layer, so we had to leave it behind with only 2 out of 3 of the rows solved. I also learned that my boyfriend is a nerd; Apparently he attended Rubik’s Cube club meetings while he was in college. 

 Our first stop was the National Museum of Denmark. Housed in the Prince’s Mansion, one of the earliest Roccoco buildings in Copenhagen, the National Museum has the largest collection of Danish cultural history in all of Denmark. Its  exhibition covers 14,000 years from prehistoric times to present-day lives. It would have been easy to spend our entire day there, but Tom and I had a lot more to see (not to mention, we’ve pretty much had our fill of museums for this trip). My favorite part was their collection of dollhouses, I always wanted one as a little girl. The scaling of each piece of furniture and the detail associated with it has always fascinated me. Tom couldn’t share my enthusiasm, because well, I’m pretty certain that he has never been a little girl. 😀

 We grabbed some Smørrebrød for lunch, a traditional open-faced sandwich of meat, fish, cheese, or spread, on a buttered piece of rye bread, before heading over to the Parliament building. Officially, the building is called Christiansborg Palace,  a metonym meaning, “Castle of the Realm.” It is the only one in the world the houses all three branches of the government, the executive, the legislative, and the judicial powers. We took two elevators to the top of the tower, the tallest tower in Copenhagen, and were greeted with some scenic views of the city.
 After returning to ground level, we took a closer look at the Børsen, the old stock exchange. We passed by it yesterday during the walking tour, but I wanted a closer look at its spire. Built by Christian IV between 1619-1614, the building is known for its  the Dragon Spire which consists of four dragon tails wounded together reaching a height of 56 meters. I really admire the expressive artistry that older buildings have. It’s a tradition that has been lost and overtaken by a desire for modern, sleek shapes. At the same time, it would be unrealistic to build elaborately carved or scuplted details into structures these days since I’m sure the cost would be astronomical.

 We stopped by a few historical churches and then took a stroll along Nyhavn. Nyhavn is a man-made port dug between 1670 to 1673 by Swedish prisoners of the Dano-Swedish War. It was constructed by Christian V and served as a gateway from the sea to the old inner city, Kongens Nytorv the “King’s Square.” The harbor area was notorious for beer, sailors, and prostitution. On our walk yesterday, Benjamin mentioned that the first tattoo parlor in the city was opened here, and the artist had a two sided machine. Back in those days it was common for sailors to put their names on their lady-friends, but it was also bad business for the woman. So if the woman handed the artist a few extra bucks, a wink, the tattoo artist would us the semi-permanent needle on his machine, allowing the name to wash away a few days later rather than being permanent. The famous fairytale author, Hans Christian Anderson also lived along this street for 18 years. 

 Our last stop today was to the Rundetaarn, or “Round Tower.” Originally built by Christian IV in the 17th century, the cylindrical tower is made of masonry with alternating yellow and red bricks, the colors of the Oldenburgs. It also has has an equestrian ramp rather than a staircase; this design was chosen to allow a horse and carriage to reach the library and for heavy and sensitive equipment to be transported to the astronomical observatory on top. Tom and I walked up the 7.5 turn helical corridor, and I couldn’t help but ask, “Are we there yet?”

Travel Day: Stockholm to Copenhagen

 To round out our trio of the Scandinavian countries, we caught an 8 AM train this morning to head to Copenhagen, Denmark. It took a total of 5 hours, so we didn’t arrive until around 1:30 PM. After throwing our luggage in lockers at Central Station (since we could not check-in to our B&B yet), we grabbed a quick bite before heading out to catch a free walking tour. 

Our tour guide, Benjamin actually turned out to be Canadian! He had been living in Denmark for 6 years since his partner was Danish. It was easy to see that he loved the city by his energy and enthusiasm, and he certainly had some interesting stories to share with us.

 We assembled outside of the City Hall. If you look carefully, just to the right of the Scandic sign, you see two lure blowers. Legend has it that if a young virgin walks by you will hear their trumpets sound. Benjamin then interceded to say, with humor, that to-this-day the horns have yet to be heard, after all, Denmark is a very progressive country.

 Just a short distance away was the Tivoli Gardens, the second oldest amusement park in the world. If you read Tivoli backwards, it reads “I love it.” The park is also home to a more than 100-year-old wooden roller coaster that dates from 1914. It is so popular that presidents, royalty, and even pop icons have a fondness for the ride. The coaster is also one of only seven that still requires a driver, called the brake man, on board. Obviously Tom was enthralled by this and now wants to returned to Copenhagen just to spend a day in Tivoli. I, on the other hand, am less than thrilled that I maybe dragged on another coaster against my will.

 We learned about the history behind the Carlsberg Beer, how Prince Fred met Mary, and even some interesting laws concerning equestrian statues. Apparently if both the horse’s hooves are on the ground, the rider died peacefully, if one hoof is in the air, the rider died from wounds sustained in battle, and if both the horse’s hooves are in the air, the rider died during battle. 

After our long day, Tom and I were exhausted. So we picked up our luggage, checked into our B&B for the night, and grabbed pizza nearby before settling in for a quiet night of “How I Met Your Mother.”

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. 🙂

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