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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
Going from the coastal plains of the Houston area to the Andean heights of Quito, in one fell swoop, was quite an amazing start to our Ecuador and Peru adventure. To paraphrase the Bible, “The attitude was willing, but the altitude makes one weak.” Thankfully, neither Kathy nor I have altitude sickness, but walking Quito’s rolling hills at 10,000 feet does work on the lung capacity.
Quito is a wonderful city set between mountain vistas on all sides. Our day took us to some of the colonial gems of the El Centro, or historic center, of the city. We purposely made today a moseying kind of day to acclimate ourselves to the altitude. Two churches that stood out were Santo Domingo (right by our hotel) and San Francisco. Both were begun in the early 1500s and feature Baroque Spanish architecture–beautiful. On our walkabout, we happened upon several marching bands in a parade along one of Quito’s major shopping streets–an unexpected joy of travel.
Our hotel, a restored colonial house in the city’s historic center, has a breakfast room with expansive views of the surrounding hills, including Legarda’s (Ecuador’s famous artist) Virgin, a winged icon of the Virgin Mary overlooking the city. Later in the day, we tried Ecuadorian food, shrimp on fresh coconut with a mango sauce and hearts of palm. Tasty. But the Ecuadorian beer was the highlight for me. It was as good, or better, than any I have tasted anywhere. Really!
Hopefully, tomorrow’s attitude will easily overcome the altitude. If not, I know where the good beer is served. WEG
Pumpkin has appeared on the menus as the autumn season begins here in Austria. Kathy is enjoying cream of pumpkin soup, and I am having pumpkin goulash. As we traveled to Melk to visit the Abbey, we saw field after field of orange pumpkins ready for the picking.
The Benedictine Abbey in Melk was founded over 900 years ago when Leopold II gave one of his castles to the Benedictine monks. Today, the Abbey is a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site. Awesome is a good word to describe it. The yellow gold colored Abbey sits massively on a rock promontory. The displays are both educational and devotional at the same time. The theme of the Abbey is the Cross of Christ, and it is well integrated into every presentation. Artifacts from throughout the history of the Abbey are beautifully displayed as you wind your way to the Baroque masterpieces held within the grounds.
The first inkling of the beauty to come is in the grand marble dining room, done with both natural and faux marble painting. Massive and with a dramatic ceiling fresco, the dining room played host to many Austro-Hungarian personages. From the dining room, we are led out onto a courtyard balcony that overlooks the Austrian countryside with the Danube River flowing below. From there, the great library, one of the world’s finest, held our rapt attention. The main room holds 10,000 texts with the same ancient binding on each. The bookshelf woodwork with gold etchings is marvelous and intricate; the frescoed ceiling is stunning. The library contains over 750 printed works before 1500 with a total today of 100,000 volumes in all.
The treasure, however, is the Abbey Church. Considered the pinnacle of Baroque design, the room is aglow with gold. The beautiful frescoes and statuary harmonize into the total design, intended to portray heaven on earth. At first sight, we stood transfixed, not moving, such was the sight.
It was a “beautiful” day in Austria! WEG – Thursday, September 24, 2015