Turkey 2012

Visiting Turkey; Istanbul and Ephesus in 2012

Turkey 2012 Turkey 2012

Vietnam & Bangkok 2009

Vietnam & Bangkok- 17 days July 2009

Vietnam & Bangkok 2009 Vietnam & Bangkok 2009

Morocco 2012

Morocco; Marrakech, Fez, Volubilis, Meknes and Casablanca in October of 2012

Morocco 2012 Morocco 2012

Japan 2011

Sushi, Shrines and Shinkansen; 8 Days in Tokyo and Kyoto in April 2011

Japan 2011 Japan 2011

Rome 2009

Mozzarella, Museums & Macchiato; A Week in Rome, October 2009

Rome 2009 Rome 2009

A Day at Machu Picchu

by wired2theworld on September 15, 2014

View of Machu Picchu and Llama on www.wired2theworld.com

They say that Machu Picchu will take your breath away. It did, just not in the way I anticipated.

We arrived, after a 2.5 hour train ride from Urubamba in which we spent the first half alone in a car for 50 people and the second half squeezed in like sardines with a group of boisterous Australian tourists and their mountain of luggage.

Some photos of the view from the train:

View from the train to Machu Picchu on wired2theworld.com

View from the train to Machu Picchu on wired2theworld.com

View from the train to Machu Picchu on wired2theworld.com

View from the train to Machu Picchu on wired2theworld.com

 

Through the Vistadome upper window.

View from the train to Machu Picchu on wired2theworld.com

While it was clear when we left Urubamba, in Machu Picchu Pueblo it was overcast and misty. The town exists solely for the sake of tourism and every hotel, restaurant and shop to cater to traveler’s needs and desires. Want coffee, cocktails and wifi? It’s here. Cheap tourist menu lunch for $8? It’s here. Fine dining? I’m sure it’s here somewhere.

Machu Picchu Pueblo (Aguas Calientes) on wired2theworld.com

Finding the bus up to Machu Picchu ruins should be straightforward but somehow we managed to walk in an extra circle or two until we found the ticket window and the line for the buses. The line moves quickly and there are lots of buses lined up and ready to go as soon as they can be filled. The drive up is a bit hairy and if you have a fear of heights, I recommend you sit on the aisle and don’t look out or down as the bus winds its way up 19 switchbacks.

Once off the bus, we took our tickets to the gate and entered. We stamped our passports with the official Machu Picchu stamp which is right past the gate on a little table. Somehow I think the US government might not approve of people placing random stamps in their passports but, not thinking of that at the time, we did it anyway and so far, so good.

Once inside, this was our view of the site:

Machu Picchu on wired2theworld.com

No doubt, it’s spectacular.

The first thing we did was head up. And up. And up, to the caretaker’s hut. I was fairly winded by the time we got to the top.

What did we see? Absolutely nothing.

Nothing but fog and a few llamas (though they were pretty adorable).

Machu Picchu llama on wired2theworld.com

The fog was so thick there was no view at all. Needless to say, I was a little freaked out at the thought we’d come all this way to see….mist. But the wind was blowing and after about 10 minutes, the fog briefly cleared, and there it was. We took a few zillion photos from above and then headed down to explore the rest of the ruins.

Machu Picchu on wired2theworld.com

We enjoyed walking around on our own, didn’t hire a guide, and frankly, didn’t even break out the guidebook. I did have some notes with me as to where the best view points were, but as for all the details of what specific things were, we didn’t place a lot of emphasis on that as we wandered and this was fine for us. I’ll leave the historical details to the guidebooks and give you some of my favorite photos instead:

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu on wired2theworld.com

Machu Picchu on wired2theworld.com

Machu Picchu on wired2theworld.com

Machu Picchu on wired2theworld.com

Machu Picchu on wired2theworld.com

Machu Picchu stones on wired2theworld.com

Machu Picchu on wired2theworld.com

Machu Picchu flowers on wired2theworld.com

Machu Picchu stones on wired2theworld.com

Machu Picchu on wired2theworld.com

Machu Picchu on wired2theworld.com

Machu Picchu on wired2theworld.com

If you’ve made it all the way down here, you may be wondering about what I said at the top about Machu Picchu taking my breath away, but not as I anticipated? Here’s where it gets a bit sticky. We were at almost 9000 feet and yes, I was short of breath, so there’s that. But that’s not what the expression implies is it?

The real question is, was it mystical and magical? Was I struck dumb with awe? Did the ancients sing to me through the stones? The answer is, no. Frankly, I’m finding it hard to wax poetic as so many before me have done. I don’t want say what everyone expects to make it easier either.

Perhaps my expectations were too high given the expense and the hoops we’d had to jump though to get there. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been blessed to see other wonders of the world. I might feel different if this was my first travel experience.

I want to be very clear; I certainly had fun and enjoyed it. I have no regrets about going and loved the rest of our time in Peru, including Lima, Cusco and the rest of the Sacred Valley. But honestly, I wouldn’t count Machu Picchu in my all time travel experiences.

Would I recommend it? Absolutely. But not over some of the magical places which have left me dumbstruck with wonder.

Have you ever visited a place you didn’t think lived up to all the hype?

For all the planning that goes into visiting Machu Picchu, please read my post on How to Plan a Visit to Machu Picchu.

{ 2 comments }

Dining Out in Urubamba Peru

by wired2theworld on August 30, 2014

We were at the Tambo del Inka in Urubamba for four nights and while our days were so busy we never really saw the town, we did walk from the hotel each night to find somewhere to eat dinner. Of course the hotel has a lovely restaurant, but menu prices were steep and there was someone there each night playing cheesy live music (picture a guy with electronic keyboard and mike). Honestly, that alone was enough to keep us from dining there. So, where to go? There are literally dozens of places within 6 blocks of the hotel, so you are spoiled for choice in Urubamba.

Please forgive the poor quality of the photos; all of them were taken with my cell phone because I didn’t feel like bringing my DSLR to dinner. All prices are in Peruvian Nuevo Soles which at the time we were there (April 2014) were about 2.8 to the dollar.

Q’anela Cafe and Restaurant

On our first night we went to the concierge recommended Q’anela. She’d told us she liked it better than El Huacatay which did not have any reservations available. Armed with a little map, we walked the 4 blocks or so to the restaurant where we were the only people dining save two women at another table. There are two small dining rooms with traditional furniture overlooking a small garden. The restaurant bills itself as having “slow cooked traditional cuisine.”

UrubambaQnela

Our meal at Q’anela included a small bowl of complimentary broad beans to snack on while waiting. I had some ravioli while David ordered our first taste of Alpaca in the form of the traditional Lomo Saltado. This came with a green tinted rice and yucca fries. Unfortunately, I was so exhausted from our long trip I didn’t write down any details of the meal and the rest eludes me.

Q’uanela Restaurant- Jr Grau 654, Urubamba Peru. Tel: 51 84201373. Our dinner with drinks and tip was 110 soles.

Pizzeria Quinua

On our second day in Peru we had a big day of sightseeing, visiting town of Chinchero and it’s market as well as Moray and the Maras Salt Pans. By the time we got back to the hotel it was mid afternoon and since we hadn’t had lunch, we opted for a cocktail and a sandwich in the bar. At dinner time we weren’t that hungry so decided that pizza would do the trick and we landed at Pizzeria Quinua which we’d passed the night before, only a few blocks from the hotel.

UrubambaPizza

The place again was completely empty, except for the four teenagers working there. In their favor, they did have a wood fired pizza oven, so I had high hopes. Unfortunately, the pizza was only acceptable. The crust needs some serious work. Actually, I think it needs less “work” (as in they over worked the dough) and a better recipe. It lacked good flavor and texture. Still, it may be worth a try if you are craving pizza. I think the place might be new and they are working out the kinks. At least I hope so.

Pizzeria Quinua- Jr Padre Barre Mza, J Lote 2, Urubamba Peru. Tel: 51 084796062. Our dinner with a large pizza and two beers was 47 soles.

Tres Keros Restaurant 

When I was researching where to eat in Urubamba Tres Keros came up over and over (as did El Huacatay below). This restaurant is in an unobtrusive building on the main road through the valley and only about 4 blocks from the entrance to Tambo del Inka. Inside the front entrance you’ll find a courtyard and stairs. Up the stairs is the warm dining room with the effusively friendly chef and owner, Ricardo who does everything possible to make guests feel welcome.

We were seated at a table by the fireplace and brought a basket of bread with home made butter. By our third day in Peru I was ready for some vegetables so I ordered the salad with avocado, asparagus and hearts of palm and a shallot vinaigrette along with a delicious passion fruit sour. I was not disappointed in either. The salad was exactly what I was craving and was fresh and flavorful. David had the traditional lomo saltado made with beef filet and was pleased with his choice. In the middle of the meal a small taste of prawn risotto appeared, a gift from the owner.

When we asked Ricardo about Piscos, he insisted that we taste the one he considered “the best” one of which they only make 300 bottles a year. While it was good, to me Pisco is not a sipping liquor and is best left to mixed drinks. We also had an opportunity to try the wine pictured below, another limited production

UrubambaTresKeros

Tres Keros Restaurant Urubamba Address: Av. Sr. de Torrechayoc, Urubamba. Phone: (+51) 84 201 701 . Closed Tuesdays. Our meal, with food, drinks and tip was about 140 soles.

El Huacatay Restaurant

This is probably the most famous place in town and reservations are certainly recommended because it’s so popular. The restaurant is owned by a local couple (he’s Peruvian and the chef and she’s German and runs the front of house). The setting is a garden and a series of small dining rooms (perhaps this was once a house?). We ended up eating a a low table with a built in banquet in their small bar area and had great service by an Austrian expat. The food here is modern Peruvian with a European flair.

When we ordered a cocktail and a bottle of wine, we were brought a complimentary bowl of olives and bread. The wine list had some decent and affordable choices and we selected a Chilean Carmenere. David started with a potato leek soup with sage and local chorizo and followed that with Peruvian trout with quinoa. I chose the alpaca loin with port thyme sauce, quinoa risotto, pear with thyme, and eggplant puree. The port thyme sauce was delicious with the perfectly cooked alpaca (which tastes like grass fed beef) and I really liked the quinoa risotto too. All the food was enjoyable and perfectly executed. I can see why this place is so popular. We shared a dessert of three home made sorbets, banana and custard. 

UrubambaHuacatay

Huacatay Restaurant Urubamba -Address: Jr. Arica 620, Urubamba.  1pm to 9.30pm Monday to Saturdays. Closed Sundays. Phone: (+51) 84 201 790 Our meal, with a bottle of wine, a cocktail and tip was about 230 soles.

{ 1 comment }

Moray and the Maras Salt Pans

July 28, 2014
Thumbnail image for Moray and the Maras Salt Pans

After a couple hours in Chinchero,  it was on to Moray and the Maras Salt Pans. The drive to Moray took about 45 minutes over a dirt road which was questionable for the vehicle we were in. But the views were spectacular. There’s a paved road too, because large buses arrive at Moray, but for some reason we took the scenic route.

Moray, Peru

 

Moray, Peru

 

Moray, Peru

 

Moray, Peru

 

Moray, Peru

Moray is a series of large concentric terraces forming a circle which gets progressively smaller and warmer the farther down you go. We walked as far down as we were allowed to go (not to the very bottom level) and down there, sheltered from the wind and yet in full sun, it was probably 15 degrees warmer. Hiking back up and out was when I really felt the 12000 feet of elevation and myself gasping for breath as we neared the top.

Moray, Peru

Moray, Peru

 

Moray, Peru

Moray, Peru

Moray, Peru

Moray, Peru

Moray, Peru

 

Moray, Peru

Our last stop, the Maras salt pans were a short drive away.  Up here, at over 10,000 feet, water comes out of the mountainside salty and for hundreds of years people have worked the land, forming shallow pans in which the water evaporates leaving the salt behind. These pans remind me a lot of the tannery dye pans in Fez Morocco in their shape and scope. However, instead of being the center of a walked city these sit high up on the mountainside.

Each pan is owned by a family and thus the $7 admission is separate from the bolleto touristico. Our time there was quick, less than half an hour, but we enjoyed it and bought several small bags of salt as gifts for friends and for ourselves.

Maras Salt Pans, Peru

 

Maras Salt Pans, Peru

 

Maras Salt Pans, Peru

Maras Salt Pans, Peru

Maras Salt Pans, Peru

Maras Salt Pans, Peru

Maras Salt Pans, Peru

Maras Salt Pans, Peru

Read the full article →

Market in Chinchero Peru

July 1, 2014
Thumbnail image for Market in Chinchero Peru

While up at the church, I’d mistakenly thought that’s where the market also was for the town. So imagine my surprise when we got the bottom of the town and saw the dozens of rows of market stalls covered with open air thatched roofs, a small black pig rampaging though seller’s vegetables laid neatly on the ground, and hundreds of people doing their weekly marketing and bartering.

This was the market I’d wanted to see. Yes, there were several stalls selling local handicrafts, but most of them were food; dozens of types of potatoes, herbs, vegetables, fresh fish, cut up chickens. There were stalls selling soup which I desperately wanted to try but alas, did not. Below are the photos from our walk around the market.

The pig, above in one of his calmer moments.

Chinchero48

I’m not really sure what they were, some sort of puffed and baked flour based thing, but the treats on the left above were a bit sweet, chewy and delicious.

We saw these three wheeled bikes all over, used as local “taxis”, all with their own signature decoration. Very much like tuk tuks in Thailand.

 

Read the full article →

Chinchero Peru; Church and A Wedding

June 28, 2014
Thumbnail image for Chinchero Peru; Church and A Wedding

At the top of the hill the church sits low atop stones which predate Columbus, whitewashed against a blue sky with looming clouds. At 9am sharp a man climbs into the bell tower and the clanging of the bells begins. We’d come to Chinchero, high up the mountains of the Sacred Valley, and suddenly bells were clanging and banging instead of ringing and pealing. There was no gentleness in the sound, but as soon as it stopped there was a silence tempered by only a bit of wind and a baby’s cry.

Video of the clanging bells and church square:

The morning, our first full day in Peru and Palm Sunday (though we saw little evidence of celebration), started at our hotel where we were met by one of Percy’s colleagues, a young Peruvian woman with a name so unusual that neither of us can remember it now. She met us in the hotel lobby and escorted us to the car which was one of the ubiquitous Toyota sedans seen all over the world.

Our first destination was the high mountain town of Chinchero which sits at almost 12,500 feet. I was nervous that the altitude might affect how I felt on the first day, being up that high, but I felt fine save a bit winded while walking uphill. Before we left, I really debated the order in which we’d do our 3 days of sightseeing in the Sacred Valley. Many people visit the town of Pisac because the market is supposed to be the largest in the region on that day, but I’d also been told the one in Chinchero was smaller and more “authentic”. I wanted to see a real working market, filled with food and goods for the local residents, not just stuff for tourists. So …

Read the full article →

The Tambo Del Inka Resort, Urubamba, Peru

June 19, 2014
Thumbnail image for The Tambo Del Inka Resort, Urubamba, Peru

As we pulled into the Tambo Del Inka (TDI) it was just coming on dark and almost 24 hours since we’d left home. Needless to say we were a bit road weary but the beauty of the resort was evident as soon as we got out of the car. Soaring wood ceilings and a giant fireplace greet you (as well as friendly door men) as soon as you walk in. We were met by a reservation concierge, and rather than checking in at a “front desk” we were brought to seats in the lobby, offered tea, and the check in process was done there.

TamboDelInka14

Because of our SPG Gold status we were upgraded to a Deluxe Room from a Superior Room. As far as I can tell the only difference is that the Deluxe rooms are on the ground floor and open out onto a private patio with lounge chairs. Superior rooms are up one level and have what looks like an enclosed “balcony” but you can’t get outside.

TamboDelInka01

 Above, our room. Below, our patio.

TamboDelInka16

The room is huge with a king sized bed, walk in closet, sofa, desk, and two chairs set in front of the terrace doors with a small round table. The bathroom has three separate areas with double sinks and mirror in the center, a frosted glassed-in toilet room, and a clear glass “wet room” with tub and separate shower. Our room was on the river side of the property, and while we could hear it, it was only slightly visible through the foliage.

TamboDelInka02

 

TamboDelInka03

The grounds of the hotel are beautiful as is the pool. I never used the pool but David did once and said it was heated and nice. Half of the pool is inside and half extends outside.

TamboDelInka05

We never ate in …

Read the full article →

The Road to Urubamba Peru

June 17, 2014
Thumbnail image for The Road to Urubamba Peru

Even though we’d been traveling for for what felt like days by the time we arrived at the airport in Cusco, there was no way I was going to sleep in the car on the way to the Tambo Del Inka hotel in Urubamba. I got my camera out, “just in case” as the car wound its way through the outskirts of Cusco and into the mountains.

Our first impressions of Cusco were not those quaint colonial cobbled streets with whitewashed buildings you see in postcards. This was a much grittier side of the city, one which I doubt many tourists see except from the window of a car, as we did.

Soon we were outside the city and up into the high valley.

Below, driving into the town of Poroy. If you take the train from Cusco to Machu Picchu, you will be bused to this town as the train no longer leaves from the center of Cusco.

Out here in the high plains is where we heard from several people that the new Cusco “International” Airport will be built over the next decade, replacing the one in the city center and allowing for larger airplanes and faster access to Machu Picchu. The massive jump in tourists this will bring is a scary thought.

Near the end of the drive we stopped at this viewpoint for photos. The girl in the post’s top photo was there with her mother and their donkey, and she was just so adorable. It was all I could do not to pinch those cheeks!

Below, who are those two tired looking old people and why does that guy have a donkey’s tail? ;-)

Read the full article →

How to Plan a Visit to Machu Picchu Plus Checklist and Tips

June 14, 2014
Thumbnail image for How to Plan a Visit to Machu Picchu Plus Checklist and Tips

Visiting Machu Picchu; this is the whole point of going to Peru for the first time, right? And there are so many decisions to be made before you get there.

You can, of course, have a tour company take care of all the details for you, but if you want to do it yourself, and save some money in the process then there are several steps and decisions to be made.

Do we do a tour? How do we get tickets? How do we get there? Do we spend a night up there? Let’s tackle the questions one at a time. Also, lets assume we are not arriving to Machu Picchu via four day trek on the Inka Trail (because, um..no way) and these questions would have been taken care of for us.

Do we do a tour? 

After looking at the options and considering the costs, our decision was no, we did not need to do a tour. By taking care of everything ourselves, we saved 50% over the cost of going through our hotel and probably 30% over going with an outside tour company.

To give you an example, our hotel wanted $475 per person for a day tour to Machu Picchu which included train, bus, entrance ticket, guided tour, and buffet lunch (plus lots of hand holding, I’m sure). They were also willing to sell us the tickets without the tour, but the markup was still about 40% overall. We spent a total of $464 for the day for two of us for all the tickets (train, bus, entrance) and lunch. We also did not hire a guide for the visit to Machu Picchu itself and this was fine for us. The biggest part of the expense were the train tickets, about $155 per person

Read the full article →