Architecture

Argentina: Cafe hopping and Mattress Running in Mendoza, 22 July 2016

Mendoza

Mendoza is a city set in Argentina’s wine region. Unless you’re into doing wine tours (which I’m not), I guess most people don’t stay three days. I was, however, mattress-running for Hyatt status, and Mendoza has a category 1 Park Hyatt.

After my complimentary diamond breakfast at the Park Hyatt, I moved my stuff to the Sheraton, which was a short, 10 min walk from the Park Hyatt.

Mendoza is a pretty compact city. In its heart, is the Independence Plaza, and there are four other plazas in its northwest (Plaza Chile), northeast (Plaza San Martin), southeast (Plaza Espana), and southwest (Plaza Italia). There are also plenty of sidewalk cafes and restaurants, alongside shopping arcades, which makes it a very pleasant walking city.

Mendoza

As I don’t have any real touristy things I wanted to do, I decided to spend my time in Mendoza, like I would any regular day. So first stop, find a cafe for reading. While it’s winter in Argentina, the sun made it warm enough to sit outside. I wound up at Cafe Jack, and settled to reading with a cafe con crema.

Coffee and shoeshine, Mendoza

When I started getting cold, I walked around for a bit. The signage for tourist attractions in Mendoza is excellent, so if you’re looking for a particular church, or a particular architectural gem, there’s no real guidebook required for exploring Mendoza.

Stained glass in Pasaje San Martin, Mendoza

The town of Mendoza has some nice architectural gems. Two instances are the Pasaje San Martin and the Banco Hipotecario Nacional. The Pasaje San Martin was built in 1926, and the covered shopping arcade features beautiful stained glass. I don’t know anything about the Banco Hipotecari Nacional, but it features a very beautiful facade with ornate carvings.

Banco Hipotecario Nacional, Mendoza

I ended my day with a pot of tea at Bianco & Nero, and more reading.

Tea time at Bianco & Nero, Mendoza

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Argentina: Hangry and Lost in Buenos Aires, 15 July 2016

Centro, Buenos Aires

I generally don’t have the best sense of direction, and most of the time, this is not an issue, because I usually travel alone, and getting lost means making random explorations and discoveries. However, for this trip, I was traveling with my +1, and he’s a little more destination oriented than I am. This is the tale of hangry (hungry –> angry = hangry) and lost in Buenos Aires. It was a vicious cycle.

Today, we had a few things on the agenda:

  1. Go check out the train station and find out information about my train trip from Buenos Aires to Rosario. I checked this information online previously, but needed to go to the train station to confirm it and get a ticket.
  2. Try out the Buenos Aires metro system. I like exploring public transport. Also, it does save us money.
  3. Explore Centro, which is more the business/tourist/shopping district of Buenos Aires. My friend recommended I check out ABC restaurant, a former Nazi hangout.
  4. Eat parrilla.

Retiro Train Station, Buenos Aires

The train station is pretty close to our hotel, and there’s also a metro station there, so we made the 15 min walk there. Two birds, one stone. The +1 was very helpful in this situation, as he managed to confirm the timing and the fare of the train from Buenos Aires to Rosario. As I didn’t bring that much cash with me, we decided to come back the next day to get tickets. The Retiro train station is an elegant building. Do check it out if you happen to be there.

Next stop, metro station, which is also at the train station (Retiro, blue line). Buying a Subte card was rather interesting. I tried the ticket counter, and as it turns out, the ticket counter doesn’t sell the Subte card – they do reloads. We were directed to a lottery selling stand to get our Subte cards, which are 35 pesos (~$2.30) a piece. We loaded it up with 15 pesos. Rides cost 4.50 pesos (~$0.30), and are charged per trip. We took the Subte from Retiro to Lavalle.

Busker on the subway train, Buenos Aires

I actually wanted to go check out the ABC restaurant, before going to a parrilla place for lunch. Well, with my very crappy navigation, we ended up walking AWAY from the ABC restaurant. It wasn’t that bad, we did end up checking out the Obelisco and Teatro Colon. Eventually, the +1 decided to take charge, and navigated us towards the ABC restaurant. The ABC restaurant is a German beer hall, and it’s quite hard to miss, because it sticks out like an odd thumb on the street, with a wooden facade painted in the colors of the German flag. Its claim to notoriety is that, it was the lunch spot for prominent Nazi leaders who fled from Nazi Germany and sought refuge in Buenos Aires after the end of the Third Reich.

ABC Restaurant in Centro, Buenos Aires

Next stop, the parrilla that didn’t happen. The previous night, I settled on a place that hit the sweet spot of price and decent ratings on yelp, and wanted to dine there for lunch. I tried navigating us towards it, but once again, I navigated us AWAY from it. Sigh, and that’s why I hate the GPS and prefer a physical map. After getting lost a number of times, we were nearing the magical end of lunch hour – 3 pm. By this point, I was so hangry, I stopped caring where we ate, as long as we could find a place that was still open. We ended up going to a pizza place, because Argentina is supposed to be famous for pizza as well. I got the house special … it was odd… They put some root veggie that I couldn’t identify, and the +1 said that the Spanish here is somewhat different, so we had no idea what we ate.

After satisfying the gnawing pain in my stomach, we decided to walk some more around Centro, just to take in some of the beautiful architecture in Centro. It was a pretty nice walk, and a novelty for the +1, because he hasn’t been to Europe, so to date, this is the closest he’s gotten to European architecture.

Cathedral in Centro, Buenos Aires

By around 4 pm or so, we were done with Centro, so I left it up to the +1. He wanted to check out the Japanese gardens, so we hopped onto the green line on the subte, which took us from Catedral to Plaza Italia. It was a longish walk from Plaza Italia to the Japanese Gardens. We walked past the zoo, which was closed. They did try to fence off the zoo, so that pedestrians can’t get a free peep into the zoo. However, it’s kinda hard to hide giraffes from the public, ya know! We also stopped by Freddo’s for some ice cream. If you want to make bank as an ice cream stand, set it up beside a zoo. Jackpot!

When we got to the Japanese Gardens, we realized we had to pay an entrance fee for it. Well … we didn’t have enough cash on us. It wasn’t the end of the world. At this point, we were probably about 20-30 min walk from our hotel, so we decided to simply walk back and check out what’s on the way back to the hotel. The walk on Avenida del Libertador was very pleasant. We got to check out some parks, and there were also several embassies along the way. My favorite was when we got on a bridge, and could see the majestic sunset slowly developing. The graffiti on the bridge was pretty cool, too (don’t remember the name of the bridge, but you can see the mechanical flower from there).

Sunset from bridge over Av del Libertador, Buenos Aires

After the rather long walk, we went back to the hotel to rest up for a bit before dinner. Dinner was at Parrilla Aires Criolles, which was excellent. I had a full portion of ribeye with sausage, while the +1 had salmon and shrimp. The excellent dinner with drinks set us back by $50 for the two of us.

#Argentina has amazing beef #food #buenosaires

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It’s like Spring Break for Adults – USA: New Orleans, 08 January 2016

New Orleans

I actually had some great expectations for this trip, but sometimes, I also get screwed over by my poor planning spontaneity. I stopped trying to find the best of everything prior to every trip, and simply wander around. Sometimes, it works out, sometimes, it doesn’t. I spent most of this short getaway wandering around the French Quarter, which really has the vibe of Spring Break for adults.

Getting in

I arrived early in the morning at around 8.30 am, and went about hunting for the airport bus (E-2, 2 USD). After going down to the lower concourse, and not finding it, I had to look it up, and found that it departs from the upper concourse (so, don’t go down after leaving the secure area). The bus doesn’t give change, so bring exact change. On weekdays, it brings you to the edge of downtown (~40 min), and it is a short walking distance to the tourist zone (~5 min, or ~10 min to French Quarter).

New Orleans

As I put my check-in time as 11 am, I had 1.5 hrs to kill. The breakfast at the Admirals Club wasn’t quite enough, so I ended up at McDonald’s (sigh, I know, argh!). Interestingly, McDonald’s in New Orleans actually serves Southern fried chicken and biscuit for breakfast. I got the breakfast set meal for $5.

New Orleans

After breakfast, I just wandered around the French quarter for a little bit, but New Orleans is not exactly a morning town. Also, I didn’t sleep on the red-eye, so I just went to Starbucks on Canal street to catch up on some work, and to try and wait it out. I was experimenting with the SPG keyless for the first time (quite an epic failure for me), and was sorta waiting around for some sort of indication that my room was ready. By noon, I was exhausted, and gave up waiting for the notification, and simply went to the hotel to check-in (I had to do the keyless thing because they were offering 2500 Starpoints for trying it). Turns out – they had a problem with registering my device. In any case, after check-in, I passed out for a couple of hours.

New Orleans

In the late afternoon, I was good and ready to explore New Orleans. For some reason or other, I started out at Bourbon Street, which was starting to come alive. Bourbon Street is very much like Spring Break for adults – it’s lined with loud bars, and strip clubs. I ducked into the Legendary Jazz Park as an escape, and wound up at Café Beignet. There was also a live Jazz performance at the park.

New Orleans

I probably should have gone with beignets, but I ended up ordering the crawfish platter (13 USD). It wasn’t the best of ideas. It came in the form of fried crawfish patties, which was somewhat over-fried, and it didn’t really retain the taste of crawfish. It mostly tasted of the filler/binding ingredients. On a bright note, it was really filling.

New Orleans

The architecture in the French Quarter is really unique. The lovely balconies remind me of places like Panama City, or Havana, and the rich colors of the buildings remind me of Antigua in Guatemala. In particular, the plaza in front of St Louis cathedral reminds me of the different small plazas in Latin America: Cuzco, Havana, Lima, etc. There are some buildings that are also more on the run-down side of things. Outside of Bourbon street, Chartres street and Royal street also have several art galleries, with some antique stores thrown in the mix.

New Orleans

After a leisurely stroll, I decided to locate a café and get some work in. At Royal street and St. Philip street, I spotted CC café, which looks like a chain café. Nevertheless, it had all the elements I needed to get some work done: good tables or sofas, conducive environment (I generally feel bad about working at cafes that are meant for diners), and preferably, working wifi. I ordered a café au lait (2.60 USD for tall), which featured a chicory blend, and also grabbed a little dark chocolate almond square as an impulse purchase (0.85 USD). This was definitely the quiet part of town, but can’t complain.

New Orleans

In the later evening, I was torn between my desire to listen to some Jazz, and my strong fondness for bonding with the bed. I returned to Bourbon street, which has now turned into party central. Watching the throngs of people walking around with drinks in my hand, I did wonder to myself if the street just turns into a puke street. I went to Maison Bourbon, and was waiting around for the Jazz band to start, but eventually got frustrated, and justified that with the other genres of music blaring from the other bars, I’d probably not hear anything in any case. Lame, I know, but Bourbon Street is also not my scene. I’m a quiet Jazz bar type of person.

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Spain: Madrid, 30 December 2015

Madrid

Ah, my one and only day in Madrid. Initially, I had planned to get a day metro pass to ride the metro around and see more sights, but sometimes, one can know a city more intimately on foot. So, I decided to walk from my hotel in Argulles to Gran Via, and Puerta del Sol.

Madrid

It has been some six years since I was last visited a European city (Athens, maybe?). As I walked down Gran Via, and wandered around the tourist-popular streets and plazas, I marveled at the chariots, and statues perched atop these grand buildings. The end point of my aimless wandering led me to very elegant Palacio Cibeles. While its ornate architecture was a visual stunner, the thing that truly caught my attention, was a banner hung across it: “Refugees Welcome”.

Madrid

The area around Puerta del Sol is also quite interesting, even if it’s not quite my scene. I think I enjoyed looking at the Christmas/New Year light fixtures hung on the streets above, but the plaza itself was too crowded. I think it’s really the love child of Times Square and Disneyland, thankfully without the high entrance fee of the latter. There are a lot of street artists on Arenal street feeding into Puerta del Sol. If anyone wants to enlighten me about how some of these street artists seem to levitate, please do leave a comment!

Madrid

While I really wanted to spend more time wandering, and also visiting some art museums, by the mid-afternoon, I decided I had to get some work done. I wound up at a Starbucks (argh!), which is actually located on prime people-watching real estate. Located on Arenal street, it is a bi-level, and on the upper level, you can get some great views of the street, if you can score a window seat.

Madrid

After a couple of hours of work, I decided to backtrack, and go to a chocolate shop for some churros and dipping chocolate (4 EUR). I wound up going to 1902, mostly because I was lazy. The churros were nicely fried, the dipping chocolate was pretty decent, but the service wasn’t exactly friendly.

Madrid

To walk off some of the chocolate, I decided to wander some more. Initially, I thought I had seen everything. But when I wound up at Plaza Real, it was worth the extra little trek. The square is very magnificent, and reminiscent of other European grand squares. For some reason or other, Brussels comes to mind. It is enclosed, and they had a different set of light fixtures. They also had a Christmas market going on, but it wasn’t too interesting for me.

Madrid

As it was just the late afternoon by this point, I decided to go to another café to get in another couple of hours of work. After seeing all the different light fixtures in Madrid, I was very excited for nightfall, and to see how the city will be lighted up. It certainly didn’t disappoint. I retraced all my steps earlier in the day, to hit some of the more interesting spots. It was truly a lovely walk. I’ll let the pictures do the talking, but it certainly reminds me why I love wandering around cities so much.

Madrid

Madrid Madrid

Madrid does have a bike share system. I went to check it out, but it wasn’t exactly clear how much a day pass costs. It didn’t seem possible to find out that information without filling out a rather extensive, personal information screen. Also, they don’t provide helmets, and coming from a city that has a helmet law, and fresh from a couple of falls in the past month, I was a little skittish about renting a bike to see the sites more efficiently. Having said that, their annual pass for 25 EUR (if I understood the system correctly) seems way cheaper than my annual pass for ~80 USD.

Madrid

Costs:

Coffee + Chocolate: 9.50 EUR (2.50 + 3 + 4)

Dinner: 12 EUR

Hotel: 27 EUR

Total: 50 EUR

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USA: Day trip to San Francisco CA, 13 September 2015

San Francisco

Taking advantage of the Delta Award sale, I redeemed 10,000 Delta points for a same-day round-trip ticket to San Francisco. I had to plan this quite well, as my main goal was to check out AT&T Ball Park, and so, I had to ensure that I flew in on a day when the Giants were playing a day game at home. The stars aligned for today.

San Francisco

Getting to downtown San Francisco

Getting from SFO airport to downtown is easy. I took the free AirTran to the BART, which sells tickets at the station, and bought a ticket with my Citi credit card to cash in on the 3X transport bonus to Embarcadero ($8.65 – one-way, a fare chart is by the side of ticket booths), as I planned on eating lunch near there before making my way to the game.

Just a small note – you might want to get round trip tickets if you know your plans in advance. I had a lot of trouble locating a machine that took credit cards when I was buying my ticket back from the Montgomery Street Station. I had to try about 7 machines before I got one that took credit cards. The rest took debit/ATM cards. Weird. You do not get a discount for getting round trip tickets.

San Francisco

The BART trains are rather oldish, but comfortable. My tushy appreciates the padded chairs! The train to/from the airport runs every 15-20 min, and the journey takes about 30 mins. The signs should be fairly self-explanatory, and the driver makes announcements at every station.

AT&T Park

I was trying to eat lunch at Rubio’s, which was featured on Business Insider, but guess what? The Embarcadero location is closed on Sundays. Grr!!! It was nice to check out the Ferry Terminal building, and the buildings on Market Street, nevertheless. After striking out on my lunch plans, I simply walked along the waterfront to AT&T park. It was a pretty nice walk, where you see a mixture of older buildings, along with those modern tall glass buildings. I would say it was a 15-20 min leisurely stroll. San Francisco

San Francisco

San Francisco also has a bike share program alike Seattle (well, Seattle probably copied them, whatever). It costs $9 for 24 hrs, and you can check them out for 30 min stretches, but I have severely strained quad muscles, so riding a bike didn’t seem like such a good idea. So, stroll, it was. There are a number of little eateries along the way, if you want to get your munchies in before going to the ballgame.

I would say I generally liked AT&T park. At the bleachers, it has some nice views of the bay. My friend, who attended a game some time back at the terrace level, didn’t like how he couldn’t get to certain places because of his ticket. I was mostly on the main level with my bleacher ticket, and I thought it was kinda nice. The AT&T Park children’s play area also looked cooler than the Safeco field play area.

One of the nice things about the bleacher area is that, there’s a dining area behind the bleachers. While you cannot watch the game from this dining area, it has picnic tables, and a nice selection of interesting food options (i.e. not just ballpark food) – a crab shack, a seafood stand, a BBQ place, and a taco place. I got a crab and shrimp sandwich ($13.50) from Crazy Crab, which I thought was tasty and fresh.

One small little tip about drinks at the ballpark. They do have soda machines near the kids’ play area, and they sell bottled sodas for $3, and take credit cards as well. I would highly suggest this option, if you want to save some money, but don’t want to drink water either. It is a good deal for ballparks, considering how watered down sodas in cups full of ice cost at least $5.50 usually. If you did not get a chance to see/get on a cable car, they do have a sample cable car by the bleachers.

San Francisco

San Francisco

Unfortunately, after 7 innings, I had to leave, as I did want to check out other parts of San Francisco as well. I walked down 3rd Street, towards Market Street (and Mission Street further south), where the BART runs underground, as I was planning on catching the BART back to the airport. I was gonna check out a cafe, and do some writing in a cafe, but wound up at Ghirardelli chocolate cafe. Apparently, a store attendant handing out free chocolate is all it takes for me to walk into a store! In the short time that I was here, I did like the buildings clustered around Market Street. They have the early 1900s flavor, with ornate carvings, high ceilings. It is a shame that I had so few hours in San Francisco!

Costs:

Flight: $11.20 + 10000 Delta Skymiles

To/From SFO – San Francisco: $17.30

Lunch: $13.50 + $3

Ballpark tickets: $16

Hot chocolate: $5

Total: $66 + 10000 Delta Skymiles

Sea Salt Caramel Hot Cocoa at Ghirardelli, San Francisco (Met Trust building in reflection)

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Vietnam – Con Dao, 22 August 2011

I must have an affinity for prison islands. Anyway, just to spice up my library research trip, (and since the price was right) I decided to take a trip to Con Dao, which used to be known as Pulou Condore, and was famous for being a prison island during the French colonial era.

Con Dao is about 45 mins away from Ho Chi Minh City. It appears that getting there now is easier than in the past. Now, Vietnam Airlines offers almost daily flights (and sometimes, more than once a day) to Con Dao at reasonable prices (~100 usd, a little cheaper if you can score a deal), and so does Air Mekong . Both can be done online. I made my booking via Vietnam Airlines, and had no problems with the online booking system.

After the short flight from HCMC to the Con Dao airport, the reports on wikitravel about the difficulty of transportation was true. Most of the other passengers on the plane were staying either at Con Dao resort, ATC, or Six Senses, which sent their vans to pick up their hotel guests. Since I was staying at Con Dao Camping, and did not bother arranging for transportation beforehand, I was ever so slightly screwed. Thankfully, there were several xe om (motorbike taxis) hanging around, so I hopped onto one, and paid 50000 dong for the journey into town, which was about 12 km away from the airport.

The journey from the airport to town was amazingly picturesque. The island of Con Dao is rather hilly, and after the cliff, there’s the gorgeous blue-green sea. The road was ran along the coast, so I could see the contrast between the lush greenery, and the sea that beats relentlessly against the rocky cliffs.

Anyway, no drama getting to Con Dao Camping. Despite the misleading name of Con Dao Camping, this place actually consists of well-constructed bungalows built in the shape of tents. The bungalows are modern, comfortable, and have every amenity you would need: A/C, ensuite bathroom with hot water shower, cable-tv, and fridge. Prices range from 30 USD for a bungalow with two single beds, to 35 USD for a bungalow with a King bed. Be sure to send them an email to make your reservations. These simple, but comfortable bungalows face the sea, and in the compound, there is a well-kept lawn, complete with deck chairs, and a private beach just after the lawn. It is more tranquil compared to the stretch where ATC and Con Dao resort is located (where locals go swimming, too), and it is definitely cheaper than ATC and Con Dao resort (which range from 50 USD to above 100 USD). They also provide motorcycle rentals at the standard rate in Con Dao, and range from 20000 dong for 1 hr on a manual motorbike, to 130000 dong for a full day on an automatic motorbike. My only complaint is that the service is kinda slow. Also, go look for food elsewhere – they don’t really have a kitchen.

My first stop for the day was the prison camp. After working up my expectations for it, it was actually rather anti-climatic. It kinda looked like the one in displayed in Ho Chi Minh City’s War Remnants Museum. Architecturally, it was not exactly inspiring, unlike its British counterpart, the Circular Jail in Port Blair in the Andamans. Oh well, at least I can say I’ve been there now?

Anyways, I still enjoyed this trip. It is definitely a nice getaway from Vietnam, which is always so busy and bustling. Pace of life was definitely slower here, and people seem more laid back, and less rip-off-y. There were many beaches around, and an excellent people-to-beach ratio (i.e. very few people compared to the number of beaches). I have heard that the snorkelling, diving, and trekking was wonderful, but I guess I will have to explore that in a separate trip. But otherwise, just moped-ing around simply made my day!

Con Dao Camping

On Top the French Tiger Cages

Con Dao Coastline, and an Island beyond

Markers and Mirrors

A mysterious little isle, and fishing boats

Categories: Architecture, Beach, Museums, Nature, Vietnam | Tags: | 2 Comments

Peru – Iquitos, 07 June 2011

Our trip to the airport was kinda scary. The guy at the hostel was convinced it wouldn’t take too long to get to airport, so we pushed things a little. But we got stuck in a massive traffic hold up, and when we got to the counter, it was like 40 mins before take-off. One nice thing about Peruvian domestic airlines? They change timings without letting you know. Thankfully, we got the good end of this – our flight was delayed without our knowledge, giving us ample time to grab some breakfast.

The flight was pretty amazing – usually flying above stuff, all you get to see is clouds. But as our plane was descending, I got to see the mighty Amazon. Looking down, it does impress upon me, what a diverse landscape Peru is. We started out from the mountainous Andes, and ended up in the forested Amazon.

Iquitos is a town in the middle of the Amazon river, and it was quite a trade town. Before the rubber boom in Malaysia, it used to be a huge rubber boom town. This was reflected in the architecture of the town. There were lots of cool, abandoned buildings in the downtown of Iquitos, with very elaborate designs. It’s almost as if you wandered into a early-twentieth century theme park.

In Iquitos, we stayed in the La Casa Fitzcarraldo, which was where the film about the rubber baron of Iquitos, Fitzcarraldo stayed during filming. It is run by Walter, who lives there, and consists of about three rooms and one bungalow. Rates start at about 60 USD for the small room. I highly recommend staying here. It is about 5 mins by motokar to downtown, but it was an oasis of calm from the bustling and noisy Iquitos. The grounds of La Casa Fitzcarraldo is pretty amazing. They have several pavilions  surrounding the beautiful pool, and even a three-storey treehouse. The rooms are also very comfortable, and come with a huge breakfast.

After settling in, we headed to downtown for a short walk, and also settled our trip to the Amazon with Dawn on the Amazon. After that, we settled in La Noche restaurant on the Promenade for dinner, jungle juice, and sunset on the Amazon. I had grilled fish, which had a texture closer to chicken, and we just sat and enjoyed the sunset before going back to our guesthouse.

Amazon River

Elaborate buildings of Iquitos

Camu Camu juice

Sunset on the Amazon

Grilled fish

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Peru – Lima, 06 June 2011

We got back to Lima in the morning, and with a whole day ahead of us, I was not going to leave Peru without seeing the capital. After checking into Dragonfly Hostel once again, we asked for directions from the hostel staff, and they kindly taught us how to walk to the metro bus for a comfortable bus ride to the historical center of Lima.

The metro bus system is pretty cool. They seem to have ring roads around Lima, which seem to be highways. The metro buses run on these highways, making the journey smooth and quick.

The historical center of Lima was pretty like other former Spanish colonies, in terms of architecture. Like Antigua, Guatemala, there are very many impressive old buildings. In particular, the balconies of Lima were really impressive. And inside these old-looking buildings, are usually very modern shops. For instance, one is a department store.

We went on a tour of the Iglesias San Francisco, which was actually pretty cool. Although we didn’t understand the tour, which was conducted in Spanish, we got to see the library, whereby some of the books they have were larger than us. They also have a catacomb in their basement, which was creepy and cool at the same time. I wouldn’t want to get lost there!

After the main attractions closed at around 6pm, we headed back to the bus station, only to realize that due the office traffic, getting onto the bus might be a little impossible. So, we ended up eating at a chifa, which is a Peruvian-Chinese restaurant. It was pretty cheap at around 4 USD, and our one-dish meals came with a wanton soup, which could have been a meal in itself.

Random note: there are a lot of casinos in Lima!

Old building, new use in historical center of Lima

Elaborate Architecture of some of the buildings

The central square at night

The freebie wanton noodle soup at the Chifa

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Peru – Cuzco, 04 June 2011

Day 2 of Cuzco, where we continue to try to acclimatize to the altitude.

Today, we tried to explore the city of Cuzco. My first impression of Cuzco, while standing at the Plaza de Armas, was how much it actually resembled Antigua, Guatemala. I guess it’s because both of them have Spanish influence, hence they have very similar layouts, whereby there is a square with a fountain, which is surrounded by religious buildings like churches? Anyway, yeah, there were a couple of churches around the Plaza de Armas, one of them being the Cathedral of Cuzco.

It was a culture day, so we went to a museum and a church. First, we went to the Museum of Inca Civilization. It was pretty ok, but does not offer too much, if you can’t understand any Spanish. They don’t have much in terms of artefacts, but mostly pictures of artefacts, alongside Spanish explanations. They only had English labels. You probably aren’t missing  much if you give it a miss, especially if you don’t read any Spanish.

Our next stop was the Cathedral of Cuzco. Apart from it being huge, the most interesting thing about the small differences between churches is their religious artwork. One of the more interesting pieces in the Cathedral of Cuzco is a painting of the Last Supper. What is of interest is, the dish in the middle is a cuy (guinea pig), which is a Peruvian cuisine. So, Peruvian artists had their own take of what was partaken at the Last Supper! Tropical fruits found in Peru were also depicted in other paintings, vis-a-vis the originals.

After our little culture tour, we were hungry. Being a very touristy place, pretty much everywhere was insanely expensive. Most of the restaurants in the town center did not seem to serve food for under 10 USD, and a lot of it seemed like backpacker food, e.g. pizzas and hamburgers. Sigh. Anyway, given our lame options, we got even lamer, and ended up eating at McDonalds, since it was the cheapest thing around (I know, I know, our bad). Anyway, on the bright side, McDonalds actually serves Inka Cola, Peru’s favourite cola, and they also have some very special Peruvian sauces to go with regular McD fare, which was actually very tasty.

To walk off our lunch, we started walking around the other squares that seemed to be north of the Plaza de Armas and south of Plaza de Armas, in a straight line. The trek uphill led us to a square with yet another church, and a handicraft market. B spent some time there shopping. Going south, we ended up in another square, which had a larger market, and was more like a proper mercado, selling food, and other stuff.

Tired, and altitude-sick, I decided to stop at Cafe Ayllu , a pretty neat-looking cafe that sells really excellent and decently-priced pastries. I had cocoa leaf tea, and a wonderful pastry, while B went off on more shopping.

I think one of those things I really like about Cuzco are some of those hole-in-the-wall finds. We really did not have much of an idea of what to get for dinner, so we decided to slowly walk back to our guesthouse, while keeping our eyes open for what might strike out fancy. We chanced upon a cute little pizzeria. When we popped our heads in, there was a chef rolling dough on the table, so immediately, we walked into Pizza Recoleta. We ended our nights with some lovely handmade pizzas (~8 usd for a big one) and I tried some Pisco Sour, Peru’s national alcohol to end our night early.

Big day ahead tomorrow!

From Plaza de Armas

Talk about Stereotypes

Mercado

Tasty pastry at Cafe Ayllu

Plaza de Armas at night

Inside Pizza Recoleta

Pisco Sour

Inca Kola

Categories: Architecture, Food, Museums, Peru, UNESCO | Tags: | Leave a comment

Turkey – Istanbul, 16 December 2010

I didn’t quite figure how compact the main landmarks in Turkey really were! We managed to see the Hagia Sofia, Blue Mosque, and Topkapi Palace, all in one day! After reading about queues on Lonely Planet, E suggested we head for the Hagia Sofia first. I guess one of the marvels of travelling off season is the lack of crowd. There was absolutely no queue in the Hagia Sofia (entrance = 20TL/~14USD). We just waltzed into the main hall, and at no point did we feel crowded.

The Hagia Sofia is no longer an active site of worship, but it was last used as a mosque. Before its last life as a mosque, it used to be a cathedral. But after the Crusades, the Muslim conquerors decided to turn the former cathedral into a mosque. Uncovered parts of the Hagia Sofia show some of the Christian emblems that have been covered over. For instance, near the upper levels, on the four corners, there are three stars, but the last one is an angel. I guess the stars were used to cover over the angels. It is a really remarkable architecture!

Next, we headed towards the Blue Mosque, which faces the Hagia Sofia. As it was prayer time (and hence, we couldn’t go into it anyway), we decided to take a lunch break in the nearby area. That was the first of many swarma sandwiches on this trip. It was at an ok price of 5TL (~3 USD). The interior of the Blue Mosque is pretty stunning. It is blue because the interior is blue in colour, and part of the reason being the number of blue mosaics used. This was my first visit to the interior of a mosque. Inside the mosque, there were also four disproportionately huge pillars. Probably need about four people linking hands to surround it! Well, I ran out of words to describe it, so hopefully the pictures will give you a better idea.

Next, we headed to the Topkapi Palace, which is behind the Hagia Sofia. The three buildings seem to have been laid on some sort of axis, making them really walkable (less than ten minutes from one end to the other). We took a detour to get to the Topkapi Palace, which brought us up a little hill path with a hooka café, and graffiti by an inspiring artist whose workshop is made of galvanized iron. Perhaps it is because it is wintertime, but the Topkapi Palace felt like a ripoff. The 20TL (~14USD) entrance fee gave us access to the general areas, but several of the potentially interesting places like the kitchen was closed. So there wasn’t much to see with the general entrance. Entrance to the harem (inner court of the palace) was another 15TL (~10USD). There are some beautiful mosaics in the harem, but some parts were badly lit, making it hard to see things like frescos. Also, there was quite a lack of explanatory signs.

After visiting these three landmarks, next we headed for the Grand Bazaar (which closes at 7pm) for some shopping before dinner. Honestly, I wasn’t so impressed with the Grand Bazaar. It is like a regular shopping mall, just that all the shops are on the ground level, and in various nooks and crannies, making it quite easy for one to get lost. Prices were also much higher than the Spice Market. I did enjoy taking pictures of souq life, though. Dinner was by a cafeteria near the Grand Bazaar that offered bargain meals. I ordered a swarma dish for 6TL (~4USD), which came with an tasty butter rice, delicious grilled aubergines and peppers. The swarma was almost like a side dish, than the main event for the dish. I finished my meal with a sinful chocolate baklava (1TL/~0.60USD). Yum!

Hagia Sofia

Inside the Hagia Sofia

Inside the Hagia Sofia

Blue Mosque

Blue Mosque and Cat

Inside the Blue Mosque

Graffiti in Istanbul

Grand Bazaar Life

Good for sale in the Grand Bazaar

Categories: Architecture, Sights, Travel Tip, Turkey, UNESCO | Tags: | Leave a comment

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