Quito (day 4)

Another early wake up call (5:00AM) so we could catch an early Cusco to Lima flight, followed by a Lima to Quito leg. The remote destinations we chose (Machu Picchu and the Galapagos) required a lot of connecting flights.

A city tour was available but we’d had enough of busses and travel for the day.

This is from our room at the JW Marriott in Quito. Quito is bigger than I thought at 2.5M people.

Tomorrow: Quito to the Silver Discoverer Galapagos.

Machu Picchu (day 3)

I rose at 5:45 to be at the gate when the park opened at 6. Sunrise had not yet cleared the surrounding mountains. The objective was to catch the ancient city as dawn hit. It was amazing. A magical place we will never forget.

This is the site before first sun. Even at this hour you can see how it sets apart from the rest of the area.

Here is when first light hits the ancient city.

After lunch we started back to Cusco. Machu Picchu Pueblo is accessible only via train. We took the Vistadome train back towards Cusco. It made better time on the uneven narrow gauge tracks than the Hiram Bingham had. Nice sights as we wended though the Sacred Valley of the Incas. About halfway back to Cusco, the highway started so we switched to a bus. We climbed through a pass over 12,000 ft through the highlands towards Cusco. Several of us remarked how much the Andes and highlands in this area remind us of the Rockies in Wyoming. The distant snowy peak is over 18.000 feet!

Our day ended with dinner at a restaurant that served traditional Peruvian fare. Nom, nom. Mary’s lamb shank was the best we have ever had. No one was adventuresome enough to try the Guinea pig stew. We were told it tastes like rabbit (which didn’t help a lot).

Tomorrow: Cusco to Lima to Quito

Machu Picchu (day 2)

After an obscenely early lobby departure (3:15) and a ride to the airport we departed for Cusco. At one point, Cusco was the main capital of the Incan empire but most of the dwellings were destroyed by the Spanish invaders centuries ago. For us, it was the beginnings of a plane, bus, train, and bus day (without John Candy) that took us to Machu Picchu.

The plane ride was noteworthy in that Cusco is over 11,000 ft. We came into the runway quite hot and dropped between two mountains, one on each side of the airport. Our pilot landed the A-320 like it was a commuter jet or private plane. Sitting at the window it reminded me of a Star Wars video game.

 

After a 40 minute bus ride we boarded the Hiram Bingham train. It was named after the Yale professor who discovered and helped unearth (or remove vegetation) from the ruins in 1910-14. Here are two shots of the train. A glass of bubbly or wine, followed by a very nice lunch (beef tenderloin cooked to order) were served enroute. Very classy train ride.

We arrived about 1:00 at Machu Picchu Pueblo. It is at the bottom of the mountain on the river and for years the only gateway to the ruins. A hotel was built near the entrance 10 or 15 years ago so our bus picked us up and started the ~1,500 foot climb to our hotel near the base of the ancient city and terraces.

We dropped our bags in our rooms entered the park. This has always been a dream to experience this but I don’t think either of us realistically thought we’d get here. It blew through every expectation we had.

We were led by an expert local guide who gave us excellent insights into current thinking about the history and culture at the site.

We kept going until the sun was close to setting. Wonderful light.

Our guide’s climbing (and I am only talking about stairs and ramps) put us all to shame. We did over 12,000 steps which represented 200+ flights of stairs over the next three hours, all of this at 8,000+ ft. Needless to say we slept well.

Tomorrow: Sunrise in the ruins and the journey back to Cusco.

Lima – Day 1 (arrival & more)

Today is the first real day of our Machu Picchu/Galapagos bucket list trip.

We arrived last night (Monday) at the Lima airport at about 11:00 PM (which is in the central time zone). It was a long day considering we started from our Hotel at SFO at 4:30AM (pacific time).

Lima is larger than I thought with almost 10 million people. We have one day to explore the city. It is right on the ocean and foggy/misty/overcast most of the time.

Miraflores district, Lima, Peru

In spite of that, it only gets 1-4 inches of precipitation a year (most in the form of mist as you can see in the picture above).

We took some time this afternoon and explored parts or Miraflores. This is a shot of LarcoMar (a mall-like feature cut into the side of the cliff) where Miraflores meets the pacific. Apparently the locals wanted some nice upscale dining and shopping but didn’t want to ruin their view. Rather than go up, they went down.

We had lunch here in a restaurant called Mangos. You can see it in the middle of the picture with the umbrellas. Good food and fantastic view with a nice moderate sea breeze.

Our shuttle leaves at 3:15AM tomorrow (Wednesday) to take us to the airport and then on to Cuzco. It is only 360 miles away but it would be an 18+ hour drive. Happy to fly.

Rome to Istanbul – Day 9-10 (Istanbul)

Fifteen million inhabitants is a lot of people. We were told that the density here is second only to Shanghai. I don’t doubt that for a minute (but wikipedia differs). We arrrived early Saturday morning and left for the airport Sunday early (2:45 AM). I never saw a road that wasn’t clogged.

We sailed up the Bosphorous and docked on the European side. It is the only capital city spanning two continents (in this case Europe and Asia).

These shots are of Hagia Sophia and the Topakapi Palace at dawn.

Our excursion this morning was a sail up the Bosphorus to a Yali house. Yali houses are waterfront mansions lining the Bosphorus (mainly on the Asian side). They are traditionally built from wood, and were popular during the reign of the Ottoman Empire when rich owners used them as a second home. This one was purchased by Salih Efendi (chief surgeon/doctor to the Sultan) in the 1840s. It started as three rooms but was expanded over the years. What remains today is one third of the compound. His three daughters inherited it and two of the three sold off their portions. A fourth generation of Efendi live there today.

Not far away was Rumeli Fortress built by Mehmet the Conqueror in preparation for the attack on Constantinople (Istanbul today).

Finally after dinner we went for an evening tour of the city. It was certainly all lit up.

As you can see the Bosphorus was still abuzz with activity.

Rome to Istanbul – Day 8 (Ephesus)

We left Izmir early for our trip to Ephesus. It is an amazingly preserved piece of history. There are active excavations happening every day as they learn more about this ancient city. I’ll post a link to more images later since there is so much happening there.

This first image below is the main shopping street of Ephesus. The street is solid marble. They are still actively unearthing the shops that lined the streets (we saw some at work while we were there). At the end of the street you can see the library of Celsius.

Today only the facade of the Library exists and it was painstakingly reconstructed. Through the gate on the right one enters the main agora or square.

This is where most of the commerce of the city took place. Unfortunately much of this commerce was the selling of idols and icons, especially of Artemis the godess of fertility whose temple was nearby. It is likely that it was this marketplace where the Apostle Paul spoke against such practices and idol worship (Acts 19:26).

Some think that Paul may have spoken to the people of Ephesus in this main theater but it is more likely that this is where Demetrius (a smith who sold silver icons of Artemis) caused a near riot against Paul by rallying his fellow craftsmen in the theater (Acts 19:28-31).

It was very cool to be able to walk where some of the early history of the church was being made.

Rome to Istanbul – Day 7 (Santorini)

Today we visited the incredibly overcrowded but beautiful Santorini.

Shipboard connectivity is strained today. I’ll redo this post (and images) later.

Here is my favorite.

P.S. Tomorrow we get to visit Ephesus. I am totally psyched!!

UPDATES:

After leaving hte parking lot and entering the main square, this is the first thing that grabs yoiur attention (understandably!)

I think that this church is one of the most iconic images from Santorini. It even looks good from multiple vantage points.

All in all, even though blue and white are every where, it is still striking.

Rome to Istanbul – Day 6 (Sparta and Mystras)

Today we visited Gythion the major port city on the Peloponnese peninsula of the Greek mainland. It is home to about ~12,000 people but still strategically important. It was the major port of the region in Roman times and the port for the key city of Sparta.

While there is a lot of tourism and fishing, the region is primarily agriculture. The largest crop being olives with substantial additional presence of citrus and wine. This shot of olive groves is but a tiny snapshot of the breadth of the olive business.

We ventured beyond Gythion through the modern city of Sparta (built mainly on the ruins of ancient Sparta) and finally to the medieval town of Mystras which overlooked ancient Sparta. The Monastery, the castle, churches and grounds are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Rome to Istanbul – Day 5 (Argostoli)

Argostoli (Αργοστόλι) was our port of call today. We decided to do a self guided walk of town rather than a scheduled tour. It is a rather plain port, nothing too exciting. It is the main port for the island so while there is a fair amount of tourism, there is more commerce than anything.

During our walk along downtown, we noticed a lot of locals out dining for a mid-day Monday. We certainly didn’t sense any feeling of impending doom due to the debt crisis (then again I am not sure what that would look like here). The center of activity was a four of five block long stretch that was pedestrian only shopping.

I think that the highlight of our excursion were the massive loggerhead turtles that hang around the harbor either feeding for themselves or taking handouts as the local fisherman clean their catches.

Rome to Istanbul – Day 4 (Taormina)

Taormina Sicily – I was here for work (a NATO ASI project through 3M) 32 years ago. I was anxious to return to see what time had done to a wonderful little village.

For me there are three things in (and or near) Taormina that I remember and that I wanted to see.

Mt. Etna, the ancient Greek theatre and the romantic village itself with shops, restaurants and an authentic feel.

We were fortunate to be able to experience all three. As we cruised in at dawn, one of the first things you notice is the majestic Etna in the distance. It is still active and seems to remind everyone of its presence every 10 years or so. More on that later.

In order to get to the theater you really have to wander down the main street of the ancient town. A single lane road that seems to have its hands full just with pedestrians, but every so so a delivery truck a scooter or a passenger car weaves its way through town.

At the end of the road one arrives at the Greek theater. It has undergone a number of evolutions through the years, including a retro fit by the romans in the third or fourth century.

It still holds live concerts. I still remember attending one in ’83. Quite an inspiring place and the views are amazing.

Finally we went on to Mt. Etna. When I was last here there had been an eruption in the late spring. I was here only a couple of months afterwards. We visited where lava had flowed across the road in a couple of places and it was still warm to the touch.

The effects of time, wind, rain and lichens have started to transform the landscape. You can still see some of the calderae (collapsed domes) and the plant life that is starting to return. A bit eerie and beautiful at the same time.