Saturday, December 31, 2011

the daily(ish)

I was blessed with the opportunity to cross off two more things from my Life List during these last few days of  2011…

#100- See Angkor Wat…




#101- Spend a day with an elephant in Chiang Mai, Thailand…



Both were just as amazing as I had hoped that would be.  2011 was truly a great year.  

I’m really looking forward to what 2012 has in store for us, obviously a lot less travel, but I’m sure a whole lot of wonderful as well. 

May you all have a healthy, peaceful and joyful New Year.



Friday, December 30, 2011

the daily(ish)

We missed Christmas at home this year.  It was a decision that really weighed heavily on us because we’ve never missed a Christmas before and we really miss our family and friends. It was tough being away from loved ones, it is for a lot of the holidays we miss during the year.  The good part was knowing that this would be the very last holiday away from them since we’re moving home in just a few days.

Christmas wasn’t too Christmas-y for us.  We traveled most of the day on Christmas Eve and thanks to a couple of delayed flights, we missed out on what was going to be a fairly traditional Christmas meal.  We spent Christmas day on a tour, we didn’t exchange presents and we ate Thai for dinner that night.  We did sit up singing carols to each other, laughing at how many we didn’t actually know the words to and watching snippets of Charlie Brown’s Christmas Special on my phone. 

I’d say the most Christmas-y thing we did do was buy a teddy bear in Siem Reap from our hotel…


The bears were to be given to children in a local hospital and all the proceeds donated to their care.  I was so happy to see how many bears had been purchased by guests before us. The real spirit of Christmas, of giving to those less fortunate and doing what you can to make someone else’s day a little brighter- that’s really my favorite part of the holiday anyway. 

Thursday, December 29, 2011

the daily(ish)

I was able to cross off a few Life List items in China...

#40- Eat and swallow a piece of Durian

It was cooked and I still want to try it raw, but I liked it. It tasted like an onion.

#107- See rice terraces

Saw them!

#56- Eat a soup dumpling in Shanghai.



BTW- Wasn’t that good, but I also just picked it up from a random vendor instead of the famous place because the queue was crazy long and it was freezing outside. Julie said she liked it though…


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

the daily(ish)

I may have been on a first name basis with the owner of a pearl store in Shanghai…


I’ll miss you, Sara!!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

the daily(ish)

If we lived somewhere really cold I would have totally bought one of these little hot water bottle muffs…


I borrowed this one from a hostess stationed outside at a Xiantiandi restaurant. Of course, I would get one with a panda.

Monday, December 26, 2011

the daily(ish)

I never got around to posting about our cooking classes in Shanghai.  Better late than never, huh?

Click the pic to read all about it…


Sunday, December 25, 2011

the daily(ish)


Wishing everyone near and far a very merry Christmas!  I hope Santa and his precious reindeer brought you everything on your list!!

Friday, December 23, 2011

the daily(ish)

Shanghai really has some incredible buildings.  Architecture in Asia is just insanely modern.  This was my favorite building…


Not the craziest design, but I just loved it!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

the daily(ish)

I think we were the last hotel in Shanghai to get a Christmas tree.  The night we came home and they were finally decorating the bare tree that had been up for 3 days I decided to help them out…


They didn’t really want my help and I didn’t really care.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

the daily(ish)

I finally got it up!  Click the pic to read all about our night market food challenge!!

Contemplating the seahorse…

Events - 16365

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

the daily(ish)

Aw, we did have some fun in Shanghai…


Yes, that is the Ching Dynasty guy behind us.  He was hard to shake.

Monday, December 19, 2011

the daily(ish)

This is some of the singing from Beijing’s Temple of Heaven park that I mentioned before…

I think it is absolutely awesome that all these people meet to sing each weekend.  Who wants to start this in Piedmont with me??

Friday, December 16, 2011

flashback friday

As I have mentioned before, this time in China is our last round on the road. Although the Wife has yet to leave the department, we are scheduled to be in Atlanta the 1st round of next year and during that time we’ll both be finding jobs. In Atlanta.

I don’t know how three years have already passed. With everything we’ve done and everything we’ve seen, I still don’t feel like it’s been more a few months that we’ve been gone, maybe a year, tops.

Yet, here we are on our last day of our last round on the road. I’m honestly in disbelief. I think it’s because we’ve got a bit of travel ahead of us before our feet touch Georgia clay. And hey, until Jules finds another job we will probably have a couple of weekend trips in Atlanta.

The adventure isn’t quite over yet.

Nor will it ever really be, I suppose. We will slow down, of course. It will seem a snail’s pace in comparison to these past three years, but we will never lose our wanderlust. Our desire to see the world has only gotten stronger as we’ve colored in our map. Our list of places we want to see is actually much longer than it has ever been in our lives. The more of the world you see, the more you realize how much more is left unexplored.

Today we’re flashing back to my first post on the road, in India, January 2009. It seems like yesterday, but it also sounds like another person wrote it. Mainly, I’m struck by how spoiled I now am. I’ve never once stopped being grateful for this opportunity. I thank God every single day for this blessing. What I’m talking about is being spoiled, not ungrateful. Like, how much I appreciated the hotel’s beauty, when now I barely register lobbies. Of course, I had no idea then that India would offer a level of service we would never encounter again. I just seemed to really take in every detail of everything- the flight, the hotel, the airport for God’s sake.

This post makes me hopeful that once we’re settled again and take normal vacations like normal people that I’ll regain the ability to really appreciate all the little bits of luxury and service you get when you travel. I’ll marvel at chandeliers and pools and the days of this all being my “everyday” will feel like a dream. Which is exactly what it has been.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

first impressions

I bid a bittersweet farewell to the midtown skyline as our plane taxied into the take-off line yesterday. Saying goodbye to our nearest and dearest was much harder than I had imagined. Fortunately, the heaviness I felt in my heart got easier and easier to ignore as the anticipation for what lay ahead grew stronger.

19 ½ hours proved to be as tiring as expected. The flight to Paris left much to be desired. I am always amazed at how dismal accommodations are with Delta. Domestic flights are usually short enough to overlook them but 8 hours in coach to Paris was pretty trying. The layover in Paris was nondescript saving the overly friendly woman with security who seemed to enjoy her pat-down duties just a bit too much for my liking.

The flight from Paris to New Delhi was far more pleasant. I find European Airlines to be so much more comfortable, have more amenities and by far more accommodating and pleasant staff. Air France was no exception and with a slight upgrade to the 2nd level of the 747 we found ourselves each with an entire row to ourselves to stretch out and get some much needed sleep. As the plane started its dissent into Delhi I was overwhelmed with curiosity.

Luckily, my expectations of the Delhi airport were well off-base. Although it is far from modern, I found it to be quite easy to navigate and fairly clean. Our line through customs was a bit long but ordinary and baggage claim was a breeze. Dare I think my lost baggage curse is over?

So far all the warnings of initial shocks; smells, crowds, waiting…India had yet to even make my heart skip a beat…the most discomfort we encountered was the heat and the humidity in the airport, but even it was no worse than some in Mexico.

Our drivers were waiting just outside baggage claim and it was as we stepped into the night that I had my first case of “India shock”. I had read much about the pollution in Delhi but I could never have prepared myself physically for the shear thickness of the air. The smoke and dust were so overwhelming (even in the car with the air conditioning running) that I found it difficult to imagine that this air wouldn’t kill me, much less keep me alive for the next 7 weeks. After a quick 15 minute ride from the airport (only once was I nervous and that was when all lane lines disappeared and it seemed a free-for-all was going to ensue) we arrived at The Trident.

In one word….breathtaking. As we got out of the car we were greeted by numerous people and given business card after business card but in truth I found it difficult to pay attention. With each turn of the head my eyes were filled with grandeur…from the enormous reflective pool at the entrance (above photo) to the 30 foot glass doors that opened into the stark white lobby capped high above with an impressive gold dome…it was a welcome to this country I couldn’t have imagined. Our room, is of course beautiful and each staff member we’ve encountered could not be more accommodating and pleasant. As I lie here in the sunny spring-like weather next to the enchanting pool listening to the sound of the flowing water of the infinity feature encircling above (even the air seems a bit lighter) I cannot imagine being more comfortable and relaxed... the two emotions I felt sure I would be running low on in this country.

They say India is a country full of the unexpected…with just 12 hours under my belt I have found this to be true in a most delightful way.

the daily(ish)

Wow, this guy was beyond awesome…


Not only did he want to dance with us nonstop all night, but he also showed us a photo of the last emperor from the Ching dynasty and claimed to be his descendant.  I think.   He did show us the picture on his Ipad and honestly, he looked just like him.

Each time I looked over at Jules she had his eye makeup smeared on her face.  He was a hoot, although he kinda freaked me out when he was dancing with me doing the sign of the cross saying “Hallelujah! Praise God I want to go to heaven!”

Oh Asia, I will miss you.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

the daily(ish)

We went to this pearl museum (read: place to be pressured into buying pearls) one weekend and the guy demonstrated taking a pearl from its little oyster home…




I guess I expected the pearl to be sitting pretty on top of a pink little tongue like in the cartoons, but that thing was really deep inside the meat. I’m going to be very careful the next time I’m eating a dozen raw!

just 2 more days

Can we talk?  Obviously, by that I mean- can I type and you read?  You could comment and then I could comment back and it would almost be like a conversation, but I think we’ve established a couple of things over the past 3 years- a. most of you don’t like to comment and b. I don’t have any problem blabbing on and on with or without responses.  It works for both of us, no?

I feel like I’ve been treading water on here for a while now.  I post the daily picture, I edit the weekend photos and give you the story and we go down memory lane on Fridays,  but it’s been a while since I’ve shared my actual thoughts on here, so I thought it was about time to remedy that.  Especially since I’m doing more thinking than I’d like to these days.

We’re just 2 days away from the end of the round.  Let me rephrase that- we’re just 2 days away from the end of the last round we’re traveling.  2 days away from the end of this so-called life. 

We’ve officially been assigned to Atlanta round 1 of next year.  We had requested it so the Wife can actively pursue job opportunities. I'll be doing the same.  She’s ready to move on from this job; I’m more than ready to have a job.

On top of the whole “find a job” thing we’ll both have going on at the beginning of the new year, we’ve also got to tackle the all the minor and major aspects of rebuilding our lives in Atlanta. 

Yes, we’re moving back to a city we know and back to friends and family, but if we’re being honest, we’ve got a lot of relationship rebuilding to do.  Life has gone on without us over the past 3 years and we’re coming home to a lot of changes.  Families have formed, babies have grown into toddlers, toddlers into kids, more babies are on the way, relationships have shifted and changed and we’re going to need to adjust to all of these things in one fell swoop.  Even with seeing everyone a couple of times a year, it’s still weird for me to think about how much change we’re coming home to- it’s almost like we’ve been asleep for 3 years and will wake up to find everything the same, but also very, very different. 

We’re going to need to buy cars, find a new house (or even more daunting/exciting build a new one), buy furniture, decide on our future in a million different ways and God help us, unpack all the things we left behind and all the things we’ve picked up along the way.

I’m excited.  I’m scared.  I’m up at night running through mountainous to-do lists in my head all while refusing to acknowledge this chapter is actually coming to an end.

I’m also trying to decide what I’m going to do with this here blog.  I started it a year before we left.  That’s 4 years of documenting our lives.  I did it to stay connected, to share our experiences, to preserve our memories of this incredible time in our lives. I think it did all those things and I’m really very happy to have had the outlet through it all. To feel that connection of sharing with loved ones and new friends has really meant a lot to me. 

I’m just not sure where this story ends.  Is it now?  Is it after our home leave vacation?  Does it continue through our readjustment period back home?  Right now, I’m just not sure.  Which is kind of our stock answer for every question that gets thrown at us or that we throw at ourselves these day. 

I know these one-sided convos have worked well for us in the past, but I may need some actual input on this one… 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

the daily(ish)

I will never, never, never stop loving or stop laughing hysterically at these instructional posters in bathrooms.  This one may be the best yet…


I wish I could steal one to frame in our guest bathroom!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

the daily(ish)

They had a speech from ol’ W printed on a wall at the DMZ rail station praising the effort of North and South Korea finding better ways to work together and open trading.  Unfortunately, North Korea changed their mind in the last minute and the rail station was never used for it’s purpose.

What killed me is the photo of Georgie…


Couldn’t they have found one where he looked less like an idiot? 

Oh, wait, I guess not.

Monday, December 12, 2011

the daily(ish)

I’m not going to lie and say I haven’t found the bathrooms in China difficult.  I mean that both figuratively and literally.  Literally because hey, my knees just aren’t what they used to be and well, I grew up with toilets and we like what we know. I’m always on the lookout for a handicap stall.  Always.

Going to Seoul was a treat because they have embraced the Japanese style “smart toilets”.  These things will sing you a song, play water sounds to help you along, warm the seat and maybe dance a jig…I just haven’t found that button yet.

The bathroom in the airport even had a digital screen to show you what stalls were free…


America needs to do some serious catch-up in bathroom technology!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

the daily(ish)

I think there’s a witch doctor on the loose in the artic…


Friday, December 9, 2011

flashback friday

Okay, so this is more like if a Flashback Friday and a Daily(ish) had a baby, but I was telling MMM about this the other night and am still laughing remembering it. For those of you not from Atlanta, Glen Burns is a local weatherman that we all grew up watching and still rely on for our weather forecasts. Don’t we? Is Glen Burns gone? I’ll be so sad! I digress.

This was one of our greatest finds in Greece back in round 2 of 2009…

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

She's no Glen Burns...

Okay last night the Wife and I were flipping through the 3 channels that sometimes have shows in English when we came across this girl...


We thought it had to be a sketch comedy show so we watched her all the way through.

Only to realize that, nope, it was just the weather report. Her name is Petroula Kostidou and she is seriously the weather girl for a channel that we had thought of as the Greek NBC because of their logo and the fact they play old ER episodes.

I still can't get over it.



Anyone else think it was weird that we’d been in China for 6 weeks and not been to the capital city??  It wasn’t due to a lack of interest in visiting, but rather trying to plan a weekend to meet up with our friend from Beijing. First off, we adore this girl and secondly, you never pass up a chance to see a city through the eyes of a local.  She was originally assigned to Bangkok and supposed to have a 3 day holiday weekend, so Jules scheduled a day off.  Our friend ended up being moved to Manila last minute and there went her holiday weekend. (They get local holidays off only, which can sometimes be awesome like getting 4 days for Easter and ANZAC day in Australia this year and sometimes really suck- like the year Julie got a whopping 2 holidays all year.) Then Julie was put on a project and ended up having to go through the wringer to keep her vacation day, because there is just too much to see in Beijing in 2 days. So after all the hoopla, we got it all sorted out and finally made it!

It was our last group weekend on the road, but Thursday night it was just me and Jules and enough time for a nightcap before bed.  We had big plans for Friday, but woke up to a blinding whiteness outside the window.  I initially thought the tales of pollution had been really downplayed, but as Jules walked towards the window she saw it was actually snowing.  We knew it was going to be a cold weekend, but snow we had not planned on.  We slowed our pace and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast together (such a treat!) before deciding that both Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City were worth getting out in the wet, cold day.

Tiananmen is a very important place for the Chinese people, but I doubt anyone without an emotional attachment would be that impressed with this barren square…





I don’t know, maybe it’s more impressive with nicer weather.

We went across the street and hired a guy to guide us around the Forbidden City.  His name was Han and I was happy he actually gave us his Chinese name instead of his made up English one.  Of course, some Chinese names are too difficult for us to pronounce (I know this first hand after butchering one of my Chinese friend’s name so much she finally said “please stop trying to say it, you will never say it right”) but I at least like the opportunity to try.

Han’s English was great, he was very knowledgeable and thankfully the snow and ice kept his frantic pace in check.  If he hadn’t tried to pressure us to buy some insanely expensive calligraphy at the end of the tour, I’d even recommend his little company.  But he did, so my lips are sealed.

The Forbidden City  was the home of the last 26 (according to Han) Chinese Emperors.  It’s a sprawling complex and when they say “city” they mean it.  We saw only a fraction of the buildings, but Han said we were really lucky to see it in the snow…







Although it was pretty, I have to say I wasn’t feeling that lucky for the snow when I was slipping and sliding around trying not to bust my butt on all the icy marble stairs and ramps.  China has shared a lot of things with me and in return I would like to share with it the miracle of salt- use it to de-ice public areas instead of just attempting to sweep the ice with a broom made of twigs AND use it to season your food, because although I’m sure you have a very low percentage of high blood pressure around here, your food is some kind of underseasoned. That, China, is what we call killing two birds with one stone. You’re welcome.

It took us over 3 hours to tour the area and upon leaving we began our 40 minute struggle to find a taxi.  Apparently, Beijing taxis don’t want to be caught up in rush hour gridlock so they just don’t pick anyone up during those hours.  No. One.

We were pretty much popsicles at this point and with each taxi driver that waved me off, I was more and more tempted to beat their car hoods with my umbrella.  Did I mention we didn’t eat lunch and our blood sugar was running low?

A guy finally stopped and when he dropped us off we gave him a huge tip.  Tipping is not the culture in China and he was so confused and surprised, not realizing how grateful he should be that we weren’t kissing him.  Our hero!

Once we were upstairs and I was cradling a hot cup of tea in my frostbitten hands, I knew there was no way in God’s green earth that I was going back outside again.   Sorry, kung fu show, I’m sure you would have been cool, but I’m hoping to make it through life with all my toes.

Everyone arrived late that night and we all had a drink together before heading off to bed for our very early wake-up call.  One of the old managers had a photo on the Great Wall with just him and the wall- no tourists in the background, no red jacket blights on the wall behind him.  It was pretty awesome and the wife and one of her cohorts were determined to get one just like it.

We knew when the ticket office had to call the cable car operators to make sure they were going to be on time to take us up, Jules was going to get her picture…


We climbed all the way up to that first structure up the mountain.  It was frigid, but as the sun rose so did the temps.  We couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day, warmer yes, but not anymore beautiful…








It was a pretty awesome day and a pretty cool way to spend what will likely be (never say never right?) our last group weekend in the department.  I can’t even comprehend that yet and is really a whole other post for another day…a day that is fast approaching.

Okay, getting a little emotional, so back to the weekend…

We got back into Beijing where we warmed up over a yummy Chinese lunch.  Our friend, C, is so great at ordering for us and always seems to choose dishes that we love!  Just another reason we adore her.

After lunch we went to the Temple of Heaven.  The temple itself was pretty enough…  



but the park surrounding it was what I really enjoyed. It was abuzz with Beijingers enjoying their Saturday afternoon- playing sports, singing songs (like huge groups of people singing- more on that later), playing instruments, practicing kung fu, bending over Chinese chess boards and playing cards. It’s these glimpses into other people’s “ordinary” that I usually find the most extraordinary.

Although we had just eaten and were all sufficiently exhausted, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to have Peking duck in Beijing. So only a few hours after lunch, we were on our way to our next meal.  Thankfully, the metro ride and long wait for a table allowed our appetites to come back a bit and once the golden ducks arrived at our table we were all ready to dig in.

We ended the meal with a birthday cake for one of the guys and then a short walk to the night market for our food challenge.  Which I’m going to make you wait to hear about.  Listen, I ate a centipede and many other creepy crawlies.  That definitely deserves its own post.

After the night market we all went back to the hotel to pass out.  It was a 16 hour day, an awesome one, but also long and exhausting.

Some of us slept in and enjoyed a late breakfast together before heading over to a market for a little shopping.  We finally found our Chinese tea set and I was so excited that we’d bought it, at least until I realized I’d be carrying it around for 2 days. 

When we left the market it was getting pretty foggy and as we made our way to the airport we could barely see the car in front of our taxi.   The flight wasn’t even showing as delayed though so we proceeded through check-in and went to a cafĂ© to grab a bite before the flight.  About the time we were supposed to board our flight was still showing as on time.  The line to board was already fully formed and then we were delayed- indefinitely. 

The airline people don’t speak a whole lot of English and seemed really reluctant to tell us if our flight would be cancelled.  When it finally was cancelled we joined the madness that was the ticket offices and many hours later got our flight rescheduled and were headed back to a Beijing hotel.

We got back to the airport the next morning with little change to the weather.  Every flight before ours was delayed indefinitely and after a few more hours at the airport we decided to do what we needed to do to get back to Beijing.  The guys really couldn’t afford to lose another day in the office, so the vast majority of us headed off for the train station.  I felt like we were in an episode of The Amazing Race- trying to get things written in Chinese, trying to explain to taxi drivers where we needed to go and going from airport to train station to another train station- all with a fragile tea set in hand. 

It was actually pretty fun thanks to the fact everyone in the group was on the same page and saw the humor in it all.  Once we got to the train station we had time to eat lunch together and then enjoyed a really stress-free 4 hour ride to Beijing chatting and watching movies.

So there it is…our last group weekend and our last travel weekend in China.  We packed a lot in, saw some amazing sights, ate some great food, shared lots of laughs, embraced adventure and made our way over a couple of humps the travel gods put in front of us…all in all, a perfect group weekend to end all group weekends.

Pics from the weekend…

Special thanks to MMM for not only letting us borrow scarves (we sent all ours home, like morons) but for even planning them out so Jules and I would be coordinated!  You’re the best!

Photo credit goes to everyone in the group- thanks for sharing!

the daily(ish)

I swear I’m working on the Beijing post!  This week has been a busy one for both of us, but I’m taking a few hours today to play catch up.  Until then, here yet another pic from the night market…


Mmm…scorpions!  Actually, these guys were really delicious.  I swear!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

the daily(ish)

Us at the Bund…


We need to go back this weekend when hopefully it isn't so foggy.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

the daily(ish)

We had an amazing time in Beijing this weekend and quite the adventure trying to leave. I’ve got a million photos to edit and 2.4 million to get from everyone else before I can get the post up.

Until then, here’s me eating a centipede…



Monday, December 5, 2011

flashback friday (a few days late)

Well, they say there is a first time for everything and we experienced our first flight cancellation in 3 years of constant travel this weekend.  Fog laid on top of Beijing like a blanket and all flights were grounded Sunday evening.  Jules and I had actually arrived on Thursday night so our 3 day weekend got extended to a 4 day and in all the hoopla I forgot to post a flashback last week.  Whoops.

To make it up to you (myself?) here’s a double post from our time in Peru when we went to Machu Picchu.  Peru is one of the few places in South America that I’d really like to go back to spend more time in.  It’s definitely one of those places where you are drawn in and just want more and more.  The people, the food, the land itself- beauty is everywhere you turn there.

And for the record that bizarro train ride back still reigns supreme as the most random thing we’ve ever experienced on the road. 

We had a 4 day weekend, but we needed about 4 weeks…

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Peru- Part 1

We had a four day weekend in Peru. We did and saw so much I'm going to have to break the story into two parts…and I'm still struggling with this stupid cold so I'm lucky to have gotten this far.

Thursday night we flew into the capital city of Lima. We got there around midnight our time and after the last flights out to Cusco. So, we literally went to the hotel, had a quick pisco sour and all went straight to bed. We had an early morning flight out the next morning and had to get up at an ungodly hour. We arrived at the airport to find our flight had been cancelled but instead of putting us in a later flight they rushed us onto the earlier one. It was a mad-dash of a morning but we arrived in Cusco earlier than expected which was nice.

Cusco is located at 10,800ft above sea level and you feel the effects of the altitude almost immediately. As we walked up the ramp at the airport to baggage claim it felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest. My breath was so labored by the time we got to the top I thought I was going to hyperventilate. It was nuts.

Our hotel was located on one of the many small cobblestone streets in the San Blas neighborhood. It was quaint, charming and best of all served coca tea and coca leaves in the lobby. The coca is supposed to help with the altitude but after a couple of cups we were all still feeling pretty loopy from our lack of oxygen. After checking in we all headed out for lunch at a nearby restaurant.
Jesus, our tour guide, picked us up after 1pm for our tour of Cusco city. Our reason for coming to Peru was to see Machu Picchu and although we had planned a couple other tours I did not expect to be so impressed. Cusco was lovely. The people, the architecture, the surrounding scenery, the colors…it was all inviting, vibrant and drenched in history and culture.

Our tour began with the main cathedral located in the Plaza de Armas. It was almost as beautiful inside as out, although they allowed no photos of the interior. Boo.

We then went to another church. Like most colonial churches in Cusco it was built on top of Inca temples but, thanks to an earthquake the temples were discovered and restored. It was almost hard for me to ignore the beautiful Spanish colonial courtyard in favor of the Inca architecture. Although ingeniously built the cold lines didn’t do much for me aesthetically.

After this we went out to Sacsahuamen. They believe this site links up to a few other sites that have been discovered. The archeologists are still hard at work here and some of the levels were closed off but it felt great to be outside in the fresh air. No matter how little oxygen it actually provided.

We saved the last sight for the next day since we were so exhausted and still all feeling a little out of whack. After resting for a few minutes back at the hotel we went back to the same restaurant from the afternoon for an easy meal before heading back to call it an early night.

We were off by 9 the next morning for our tour of the Sacred Valley of the Incas. This valley runs from just outside Cusco to the last town before the Inca Trail that leads to Machu Picchu. It was a full day tour but we did so many different things we rarely spent any time in the van. At least it felt that way to us.

In a nutshell we…visited the highest point in Cusco where we saw three Inca fountains, stopped at a local craft market, visited a llama farm where we got to feed and pet the animals, went into a small town to shop, had a nice lunch outside at a local restaurant, visited another Inca site where we climbed 270 stairs to the top and felt the wind of 4 valleys meet, visited a chicharia and tried the local corn beer while dodging guinea pigs as they ran around the floor and finished the day with a stop in another town where we were taught how the locals clean, spin and dye wool...

We attempted to see some local dancing when we got back into Cusco but it was fairly cheesy so we snuck out during a break and all headed back to the Plaza del Armas for some dinner. We found a great restaurant with wonderful food and thanks to the altitude my two pisco sours had me feeling like I had four. It would have been a nice to explore the nightlife but, we had to get back after dinner because our driver was picking us up at 6:15am for our train to Machu Picchu.

…to be continued

Friday, August 21, 2009

Peru- Part 2

6:15 Sunday morning and our very sweet driver, Mr. Edwin, was patiently waiting for us all to make it upstairs. The two small flights of stairs in our hotel up to the lobby literally seemed like a mountain to me each time I took them. Even as you feel you’re adjusting to the altitude you do something stupid like take a flight of stairs at a normal pace and find yourself at the top clutching your chest and screaming “I’m coming Elizabeth! I’m coming!”.

You have two choices of trains to Machu Picchu. One is the backpacker train and the other first class train is called the “Vistadome”, which alludes to its skylights in the cars. If you know me, you know I can smell a dirty hippy from at least a mile away so when discussing I was all for the first class train. And yes, I am well aware that backpackers and hippies are not always one in the same but I didn’t want to take my chances.

It turns out that the first class train offers little more than a small table in-between the seats and one pitiful excuse for a snack for the 3 hour ride. Although it is very warm in the day, the nights and morning are extremely cold, like just above freezing, so you can imagine my dismay to find that there was no heat on the train. I’m not sure what is “first class” about that but if they thought the thin little blanket made up for it they were mistaken. Needless to say I was miserably cold in my capri pants so after our table was cleared I laid my head down and napped for the majority of the ride.

When I awoke I found we had left the valley farmlands and arrived in the jungle. It was a lovely ride and thankfully the sun had come up and was slightly warming the train car. The train arrives in Agua Caliente, a small town below Machu Picchu. From there you take a 25 minute bus ride up, up and up the mountain. The views were breathtaking and when we spotted Machu Picchu for the first time I have to say my heart skipped a beat.

Visiting Machu Picchu was one of the places we wanted to see most in the world. A lost Incan city found high in the jungle and shrouded in mystic. Who wouldn’t want to see that?

Our guide, Franklin, met us as we stepped off the bus and after shedding some layers and slathering on some sunscreen we made our way to the site. Okay, after everyone else slathered on sunscreen. I was so desperate for some color I decided to forego the protection. Stupid? Yes, and I paid a dear price. The sunburn and subsequent peeling is bad enough but I will be fighting this ridiculous bib tan line for months to come.

Believed to have been built during the height of the Incan Empire in the early 15th century there are a lot of theories about the uses of the site. It seems the prevailing is that it was an estate of the then ruling Inca king. The site was largely unknown until an American historian, Hiram Bingham, was brought there by some locals in 1911.

Machu Picchu is one of those places where you cannot begin to understand its grandeur until you are standing there in front of it. The beauty of the city itself is nothing in comparison to its location...

We spent two hours with our guide and had another hour or so to enjoy the views ourselves before heading back down to Agua Caliente.
I don’t think any of us were looking forward to another three hour train ride back to Cusco. Of course this was because we had no idea what was in store for us. About halfway through the trip Julie was napping and out of nowhere this loud flute music begins to play. I look over and we’re all thinking “what is this?” and two seconds later this guy comes running out…

He was running around dancing, doing this weird trilling sound and rubbing his stuffed llama on everyone’s face and neck. Um, yeah…we have no idea but, I think Julie’s face says it all…

After he was done an announcement came on telling us that we were going to have a fashion show. Um, yeah, still no idea. The music then changed to loud techno and low and behold our attendant had taken her hair down, put on some lipstick and was cat-walking down the aisle in a sweater. They even had our male attendant modeling some of the local wool creations. They were both pretty funny strutting their stuff for the people they had just served drinks. The guy was the best though, when Julie reached out to feel the material of his sweater he leaned in, gave a bicep flex and said in a low, sultry voice “baby alpaca”. This is the term for the wool from the very first shearing of the animal- very soft and very pricey. Anyway, everyone was clapping, whistling and yelling for them…it was so strange but it did make the time go by quickly and was good for many, many laughs.

We all got freshened up and went out to dinner together for our last night in Cusco. Even with 4 days it didn’t seem enough for the trip. Peru is one of those places where you can’t help but be completely captivated with the beauty of the people, the culture and the country itself. It's one of those places where you can’t stop yourself from saying “I could so live here”.
We’ll be enjoying our last weekend of the round in Buenos Aires. We need to get in all the leather, steak, dulce de leche, and tango we can handle because in 6 short days we’re hopping on the plane bound for home!

Posted by MAV at 11:37 AM 1 comments