Home » Architecture
Category Archives: Architecture
Our journey from Houston was a long one, and we arrived in Shanghai in early evening, tired but excited. First impressions are these: the people are friendly and helpful; everything is well organized and efficient; Shanghai is beautiful and huge and there is no visible bureaucratic overreach. We got a great night’s sleep and arose in the morning to explore our surroundings.
Our hotel is located in “the Bund” waterfront district–the heart of Shanghai and the financial and commercial center/hub of China. The Bund runs along the Huangpu River and features European colonial style buildings from the past on one side and striking modern skyscrapers on the other. Right out the door of the hotel was an alley that led directly to the old Shanghai shopping market. The architecture was everything one imagines China to be: narrow passageways and intricately carved wooden buildings with pagoda styled roofs and red Chinese paper lanterns adorning the shops. It was fascinating.
We walked the promenade along the Huangpu River and enjoyed watching the ships gliding by the amazing architecture of the city. We noticed that, in spite of its immense size, Shanghai is dotted with parks, and streets are lined with trees–many stately sycamore with white pealing bark. We walked through one park with topiaries, flower plantings and expansive green lawns. On one side, under the trees, Chinese music wafted through the air and people were dancing in the middle of the day. It was delightful.
We ate in a Dim Sum restaurant for lunch. I followed the instructions of the server and picked two “small” portions from each category. Oh my! Overall, I picked foods I have never eaten, i.e., dates in plum sauce with water chestnuts, Chinese congee with ham, crayfish in chili sauce with ? (I have no idea, but it was crunchy). It was all very tasty, but it just kept coming and I could not eat all the food on the plates. At the seventh course they brought a bowl of vegetable fried rice. I was maxed out and this bowl was anything but small. Literally, it could have fed three people for lunch by itself. I felt so guilty leaving so much food behind on the plates–think of the irony of it all–my mom telling me to clean my plate as a kid because of all the starving children in China! Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough money to buy Kathy any food, so she just watched me eat. She said the wonderful smells soothed her hunger. (She ordered fried seafood with cheese and avocado.)
It was a relaxing first day and we are super excited for the ones to follow. WEG
I heard the guide say several times that we were going to visit “Sexy Woman.” Kathy and I were curious to know what that might be. When we arrived, the sign read, “Sacsayhuaman.” All of our fellow travelers, who had also harbored a silent inquisity about where we were being taken, were in awe as the bus carried us to a major Inca Fortress on the hills above the Inca Imperial Capital of Cusco, Peru. “Sacsayhuaman” was impressive. The foundations of the ruins still remain–huge stones weighing up to 1,000 tons. Twenty-thousand workers labored years to build the Fortress–quarrying, cutting, transporting (on sleds pulled by human hands) and setting the stones in beautiful precision. Such ingenuity and persistence!
The day began with a Cusco city tour to the archeological site of the Temple of the Sun. Covered in pure gold, it was an instant attraction to the invading Spanish conquistadores, who took all the Inca gold (22 carat) and silver (pure) that they could find and had it shipped to Spain. The temples were often torn down to use the stones in other construction, and colonial cathedrals were built on top of the remains. An earthquake exposed the Temple of the Sun’s foundations, and now it is a protected site.
We arrived in Cusco on the major holiday in Peru, Corpus Christi. Huge parades had brought ornate, larger than life-sized statues of the Virgin Mary from churches in the area to the city cathedral. When we toured the cathedral, the statues were on display. We admired the altars clad in 22 carat gold. “Look, but don’t touch, and no pictures.” We gazed in wonderment at the massive painting of “The Lord’s Supper” by a Peruvian artist as he used the inspiration of Leonardo daVinci’s famous painting, but personalized it for a Peruvian audience using tortillas for the bread and roasted guinea pig for the meat in the Passover meal. Judas was portrayed as Fernando Pizarro, the invading Spanish conquistador.
Outside was a big party! Thousands of people–young and old–were parading in native Indian costume (do not think North American Indian–there is no comparison in dress or music) with bands playing native music. It was beautiful and an explosion of color. You really did want to dance along.
We had another evening of “dinner and a show.” Kathy and I had mountain trout, and we both thought is the best trout we have ever eaten–and we have eaten trout around the world! The music and dancers showcased the Peruvian art forms over time. It was fast-paced, colorful and entertaining.We have met some outstanding folks on this trip. I have a special fondness for two widows from Florida who were New York transplants. They could be my older sisters. They are not only cute but funny! They both have a joy for life and, although alone, they found each other and risked traveling together. What a hoot! They do not cook any longer and Marcia told me Charlotte doesn’t even own pans. I tease them about this and, when they went to the cooking class, I told Charlotte that I was going to be watching closely. She responded that I would have to eat her food! Marcia said that would be the end of my trip. Well, I’m still standing. WEG
P.S. We could not post this blog yesterday. So, it is a day late. Today, we flew into Juliaca and then drove to Lake Titicaca, taking most of the day. This short note will suffice for today’s blog. There will be pictures and descriptions of the largest lake in South America and the highest navigable lake in the world in tomorrow’s blog as we get back on schedule.
Lima, Peru–where do you start? Historic, yet modern. Huge, yet intimate. Rich, yet poor.
Our first impression was that Lima was modern. Huge electronic billboards greeted us both in the airport and on the roads from the airport in the dark of the night. In the morning, the impression continued in our Hilton Hotel in Miraflores, an upscale suburb on the Pacific. We had time to stroll the area around the hotel and along the Pacific. We ate an early lunch looking out on the Pacific on a balcony cantilevered over the cliffs. Cool! Kathy and I agreed that the area reminded us of the Houston Uptown/Galleria area, with one big exception–there is an ocean! Indeed, the ocean side mall is called, “The Galleria.”
In the afternoon, we toured Old Colonial Lima. It was grand! Beautiful parks surrounded by majestic colonial era buildings/palaces/churches were abundant. We spent time in the UNESCO World Heritage Site San Francisco monastery and catacombs. Beautiful, with imported Spanish tiles and fine handcrafted wood features and frescoes on the walls, it has open courtyards and magnificent rooms and chapels. At one time 400 priests lived here, and it is still a working monastery today. The catacombs were discovered in the mid-20th century. The priests cleaned the bones and rearranged them with similar bones put together in rooms. What a sight!
Our guide was an 18th generation descendant of one of the thirteen Spanish explorers who came with Francisco Pizarro in the early 1500s. That was a treat. She showed us her ancestor’s tomb in the cathedral along with the mausoleum of Pizarro. The mosaic tiles are of 18 carat gold. What caught our attention was the beautiful woodwork in the altars. Then, we were told that they were gold, and the gold was painted over and then scratched away in the crevices to give it a unique look. Awesome.
We strolled the pedestrian streets and saw one beautiful building after another. We toured the oldest colonial mansion in Lima–started in 1535 and still inhabited by the same Aliaga family for 18 generations. It is a magnificent house and, if by chance a girl was the oldest child and next in line to own the home and family fortune, her husband would have to change his name to the family name or the inheritance would be lost. Lima is the capital of Peru and has a population of over ten million. While we saw the magnificent parts of the city, there are shanty town neighborhoods where we were told not to venture. Peru, while now stable, was quite unstable around 25 years ago.
With an ancient Inca culture and the Spanish new world exploration in 1535, Lima has a rich and long and proud history. WEG
Cuenca was the northern capital of the Inca Empire in the 1400s and was known as Tumebamba. Impressive buildings were constructed with 1,500 pound stones being brought from Cuzco in Peru almost 1,000 miles away. Brought by hand labor (no draft animals or wheeled conveyance in the Empire) through the Andes, it was an arduous task. The important Temple of the Sun was covered in gold and silver with turquoise and emeralds. Today, all that is left is the outer parts of the old capital, Pumapunku and Todos Santos. An Incan civil war destroyed much of the city and when the Spanish arrived, they used the impressive stones for building the current Cuenca and thus, most of the imperial city lies underneath the modern city.
Kathy and I spent a good part of the day exploring what remains of the ruins of the imperial city and the magnificent gardens surrounding it on the River Tomebamba. We had a magnificent time. It is sobering to realize the great empire that once existed and the grand history that shaped our American experience. The remains are extensive and so the mind imagines how large and grand the imperial capital must have been!
Kathy loves gardens and so this was a special day for her, since the gardens by the ruins were beautiful. An aviary in the gardens contained Ecuadorian birds: parrots, parakeets (big ones–not our little birds), eagles, etc. A tranquil lake was surrounded by lush greenery and flowering trees. The ruins and the gardens intermingled, and we often stopped to sit and contemplate.
Once we had walked ourselves silly, we realized we had a long walk back to our hotel and I told Kathy, “Just remember, it is good for us!” We could have hailed a taxi, but then we would not have been able to walk along the rushing river in the cool afternoon/early evening. So we walked and stopped along the way for a respite at a riverside cafe for a beer for me and a mojito for Kathy. Refreshing. That gave us the umpf we needed to make the rest of the way home to our wonderful Cuenca Suites, where the owners had washed and dried our clothes while we were away for the day. Couldn’t ask for more! WEG
Just steps from our hotel is the Museum of Modern Art in Cuenca, and today was a cultural day. The museum explores the modern response to Spanish colonialism and also how the modern age is affecting the traditional culture. Since I enjoy artistic expression, it was an enjoyable experience. I especially appreciated the sculpture garden, with its serene setting in a courtyard amidst flowering plants and trees. I sat for awhile and simply enjoyed the view and soaked in the cool air.
This was also a day to relax (indeed, we slept until 11am) and tend to tourist necessities, like get clothes cleaned and buy needed items. Our hotel owners allowed us to wash our clothes in their automatic washing machine. Rather than drying them in the electric dryer, they allowed us to hang out our clothing to dry in the sunny back courtyard on a drying rack they had prepared for us. We are refreshed and ready for the next adventure. WEG
Kathy and I arose in the morning rearing to tackle old Cuenca. I had mapped out a route that would take us on an exploratory journey for the day. It was a good decision! The weather today was as near perfect as perfect can be. It was mostly clear and sunny, and somehow the sky here is bluer than we have ever seen. It probably has to do with the altitude and close proximity to the equator. Still, the air is cool and, while you can sunburn easily, I went with a short sleeve shirt all day and was just right.
As we walked, we saw that the city is on the move. Rail tracks are being laid for trolleys/light rail and, for lack of a better word, “gentrification” is happening everywhere. Old colonial buildings are being restored and renewed and there is definitely an air of excitement. The city is already beautiful, but when the restoration projects are completed, the city will have an upscale feel.
We walked into a large Mercado and spent time perusing the beautifully displayed food items. How, how, how you wish you had these “fresh from the garden” selections at home. It is not just the huge variety, but the endless choices. Take the largest grocery store produce and meat sections you know, quadruple the number of varieties available and double the entire grocery store size and fill it with those vegables/fruits/meats and you have an idea of a neighborhood market. All straight from the farm/garden/ocean/river to you. Not frozen, homogenized, chemical laden–but fresh! We bought some cheese and chocolate to munch on as we walked. When we tried the chocolate, my mouth puckered–this was 100% dark chocolate. Thankfully, we have some fresh honey and milk in our suite kitchen and we will have some great hot chocolate tonight.
We walked by the “new” and immense cathredral with its three blue mosaic domes. It is quite beautiful with a golden altar. There are spotless restrooms nearby, but you pay about 30 cents to use them. For the money, you also get a small amout of toilet paper to take in with you. I buy extra–I am not sure how it would be possible to make it with the nine one-ply paper sections you are handed. When finished, you wash your hands and as you walk out, the attendant hands you two paper towels to dry your hands.
We ambled down to the Rio (Tomebamba River) that cuts through the heart of the city. It has a magnificent smooth cobblestone walkway along the rushing waters. We walked quite a long way, stopping at a small pub with outdoor seating to share a beer. Refreshing!
We had to climb our way from the river up to the city on a long stairway. With the high altitude, we didn’t dart up. The Andes rose up in the distance and the flowers were blooming, the air was cool and fresh, the city was amazing and the river was relaxing. It was a wonderful day! WEG
I bask in the first cool breezes of fall at home in Texas. You know how it feels when that cool north air hits your face and you breathe in the fresh air. Still, the sun is shining and you get those warm rays at the same time. That was Cuenca, Ecuador, today. At 8200 feet above sea level, the city of 350,000 was clean, fresh and cool on this day when the sun and clouds mixed in the sky.
After arriving in the evening the day before, we slept in at our suite at a remodeled colonial home in the Centre Historico of this charming city. Our accommodations are modern and roomy. The interior courtyard has a fountain and the walls have wonderful art displays and the original wood railings on the floors above the courtyard remain. Cuenca is alternately known as the best preserved “colonial city” in South America and the most European city in Ecuador. The heritage of 16th and 17th century Spanish architecture is everywhere. We were impressed as we walked the cobbled streets to see beautiful plazas with usually white washed churches and colonial buildings. Passage ways through buildings open up into interior courtyards filled with flowers and fountains and shops, restaurants, and small hotels. It is quite inviting.
As we walked, we crossed a street and all of the sudden above us loomed the city’s cathedral with its blue domes. It was an impressive sight and, frankly, overwhelming. We had not expected this imposing or massive building! All around the cathedral, teeming life. Plazas with vendors and gardens and large colonial buildings, restaurants and hotels stretched out in every direction. As we walked in the main plaza, Kathy noted what looked to be an American couple sitting on a park bench beneath trees blooming with beautiful purple flowers. She struck up a conversation with Doug and Barbara that lasted well over an hour. They regaled us with stories of this beautiful city they now call home. Four through ten thousand U.S. expatriates call Cuenca home at any one time during the year. It is easy to see why: impressive weather, natural beauty all around, marvelous colonial city, culture and art and inexpensive. We found out that if you are a senior, health care is quite attainable and quite inexpensive; entrances to all cultural events from opera to sports is free; if there is a line anywhere, you are moved to the front, as seniors are valued, and transportation originating in the country from bus to air is half price automatically, and the list goes on.
I am heading out the door. We had a great lunch today in a beautiful restaurant. Kathy chose the featured entree’–a delicious potato cheese soup and a main of beef and rice and fried plantain–all for $5. I chose the chicken stuffed with shrimp in a palmodoro sauce. So, we are not particularly hungry tonight, having stopped in a pastry shop and eaten sweets around 5pm. I saw an elderly woman last night upon our arrival with a movable charcoal bar-b-que on the street corner with kabobs of chicken and pork situated across from the plaza where our suite hotel is located . Sounds just right to me! WEG
After a lot of activity over the past several days, Kathy and I decided to have a chill out day and leisurely explore Cotacachi, our home for six days. We walked down quiet streets and visited the area historical museum. It explored the development of two important aspects of life in this part of Ecuador–leather goods and music. Very well done. Flowers and trees are blooming, and we enjoyed the simple beauty of God’s creation.
Our lunch was magnifico! Kathy had a quinoa soup–super foods are grown here and the area is a Mecca for health-seeking folks–remember Kathy’s bee sting/pollen therapy from a past post–that’s just one of many different kinds of health clinics here. By the way, Kathy tried to get me to go for the bee sting thing today. Didn’t happen. I told her that I already “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee,” to quote boxer Ali. My lunch was an appetizer–avocado stuffed with shrimp in a lime cream vinaigrette and topped with pickled green and red onions. Best such appetizer I have ever eaten.
On our ramble through the city, we ran into an American (U.S.) expatriate, and she invited us to see her condominium nearby. We went and were absolutely impressed with the compound and the condominiums–beautiful and with sweeping views of the volcanoes. Our visit was great as she recounted the joys of living here and told us of how one is able to accommodate to a new culture. We found out that one of the units with straight-on views of 15,200 foot Volcan Imbabura was for sale. Tempted–yes! Permanent move–no!
I noticed that when we were on the “leather street,” filled with shops selling hand made leather products, as well as other clothing, shoes, and purses, that Kathy had noticed an Ecuadorian shawl in a window. Not a spender, especially on self, she walked on by. Later, I convinced her to buy several leather clothing items and that took some convincing. We walked by the “shawl in the window” as we meandered the street, and sure enough, in she went, and it fit perfectly, and so home it goes. I know her well and was certain that before we left Cotacachi, she would have it, because, although she spends little, when she sees something she really likes…WEG
The weather is Quito is remarkably wonderful: 65-70F by day and 45-50F by night. Kathy and I stroll the streets past Ecuadorians in native dress and others in modern dress selling all sorts of items: plastic sleeves filled with apples or pears; lima beans in boxes; multi-colored shawls; bowler hats; ice cream and back scratchers, to name a few. The city is alive with people. Cars and buses vie with people in the narrow streets, the sidewalks being packed. El Centro is filled with colonial buildings, most in good repair and many quite handsome. Surprisingly, we do not find pharmacies or banks–which have been a constant presence in every country we have visited over the past several years.
The Church of the Society of Jesus, locally called, “la Compañía,” is our must-see for the day. To say that it is exquisite would be an understatement. Begun in the early 1600s, it is a baroque masterpiece. Considered one of the most beautiful churches in South America, its baroque splendor easily rivals its counterparts in Europe. Intricately carved and gold-leafed from floor to ceiling, with porcelain statuary adorning the altars, the church is a jaw-dropper. The ten side altars blend harmoniously into the whole, leading to the main altar. The gold ceiling reflects the light making a golden hue that gives a heavenly feel. We sit for a least an hour in silent contemplation of the faith that would produce such beauty.
We also amble through the Central Bank Museum, proof that banks do exist somewhere in Ecuador. It tells the story of coin minting, with artifacts, through the centuries in Ecuador.
Our hotel has pure hot water dispensers and anis tea. The tea helps with acclimating to the altitude and it works! Both Kathy and I are feeling good, maybe even exhilarated! Hmm, is it really anis tea? WEG
Prague, Sunday, October 9, 2016
Going up to the castle high on a hill overlooking the Vltava River and Prague was easy since our tour included the bus ride up. We certainly can testify that this is the largest castle complex in Europe. We walked 3.6 miles on the castle grounds! There is much to see–courtyards and village houses and castle rooms and churches. St. Vitus Cathedral is exceptionally beautiful. The stained glass is bright and inviting. The remains of saints are housed in wonderful sarcophagi; a silver sarcophagus of one of the saints features flying angels and lanterns. St. George (as in the dragon slayer) Basilica was built in 950 AD. Going out the exit of the castle complex on the extreme opposite side as we entered, we expected to find our bus waiting, but, no, it was down, down, down the hill we walked toward the famous Charles Bridge that unites the lower town with the old town Prague.
Then we walked some more as we strolled into the Old Town to watch the astronomical clock strike six o’clock. The clock is at the entrance to a major square where we viewed the ornate and colorful buildings and towers that outline this large space. By the time we got back to our hotel we had added many miles to our daily total, but our minds were filled with the beautiful sights of the day. WEG