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One mountain peak stacked upon another and another and another; deep valleys running in several directions with more mountain peaks, like ducks in a row; tropical foliage with bromeliads growing in the trees and colorful flowers, even orchids, adding color to the green landscape and then steep sheer cliffs adding drama. This was our amazing ride up from Machu Picchu Town to the World Heritage Site and one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World, the wonder city of the Incas, Machu Picchu.
We arose early from our mountain retreat and took the dome car PeruRail, itself known as one of the best train rides in the world, to Machu Picchu Town at the base of the mountains leading up to the famed ancient city. The sights were wonderful. First, we were in high country farm land, and all of the sudden, in the tropics along the river that is a tributary to the Amazon, which originates in Peru. Snow-capped mountain peaks could be seen here and there. We pulled into the handsome train station in Machu Picchu Town and walked across bridges above rushing streams to the bus terminal, with buses leaving every five minutes to take visitors up the mountains to the famed archeological site. What a ride! The bus drivers make those hairpin curves quickly.
And then, there it was, the mountain city of Machu Picchu. Only the leader of the ancient peoples was known as the Inca, the Son of the Sun, his wife, the Daughter of the Moon. The Temple of the Sun was clad in gold and the Temple of the Moon in silver. While the imperial city was in Cusco, the Incas loved Machu Picchu, and it was a royal retreat. I can see why–the scenery is stunning, overwhelming, impressive, captivating, astounding! It was a citadel, surrounded by imposing peaks, some snow-covered with steep cliffs. It was isolated, in fact, so much so that the Spanish conquistadors did not find it to destroy it as they did every other Inca city. Canals were built from the glaciers of nearby mountains to bring fresh water into the city for hygiene, irrigation and drinking purposes. Here in Machu Picchu, the astronomers developed the calendar that was precise. By watching the stars, through water plates that reflected the stars on the surface like a mirror, strategically located throughout the city, they mapped and chronicled the movement of the stars and created an accurate knowledge of the heavens, and their sun dials were marvels of time keeping.
Machu Picchu is a wondrous city. Its buildings climb up and down the hills. There was a place for the common people, with a farming area, with fabulous terraces built down the mountain sides for agricultural purposes. What human might it must have taken to carry the stones and build the walls on such steep inclines. And, there was a place for the Inca and the elite. Here the temples were built and the royal homes. There were gates to the city and garrisons for soldiers. It is a large archeological site. We walked up and down steps, marveling at the sites and listening to the history and explanations of the site given to us by our guide. You had to be careful in walking. It was so marvelous that you could easily forget your bearings. While we walked, in fact, two tourists had major accidents–one backing up too far to take a picture and falling over the ledge for a five foot drop, and another gazing in wonderment, not noticing the steps and breaking her leg in the fall. I held onto the rock walls to stabilize my path! What can I say about Machu Picchu but that it is a marvel of industry and might and ingenuity and science. It is breath taking!
Our evening is spent in a very nice hotel in Machu Picchu Town. We were greeted after our rather grueling day with iced tea and hors d’oeuvres. Hors d’oeuvres were also delivered to our room. The mountain stream passes by and the mountains rise up before us. My mind is and will be occupied at how these people built such a magnificent place for us to marvel over today. WEG
Český Krumlov is what Bohemia (one of the major divisions of the Czech Republic) has always been. It is frozen in time. Visitors from all over the world come to walk its very narrow and heavenly cobblestoned streets surrounded by ancient medieval dwellings (our hotel dates from the 1490s). The Vltava River rushes its way through the center of the village overseen by a royal castle perched on a rock outcropping, giving it a look of solid strength.
Our trip here from Hallstatt, Austria, was by private shuttle. It was the only viable way. Reasonable in cost and comfortable, our van moved along roads and highways in Austria past beautiful lakes for most of the journey. Once we passed into the Czech Republic the land became rolling hills filled with pastures and farms. Eventually, we followed the Vltava River all the way to our destination, passing castles and churches commanding the hillsides. When we turned onto our final road to Český Krumlov, it narrowed to basically a one lane road. Large trees hugged the roadside, painted white on the trunks to remind drivers that they shared the road. We drove slowly around curves and when we met traffic going the other direction, both drivers moved carefully.
Arriving into Český Krumlov was unmistakable. A UNESCO World Heritage site, towers and multi-spired steeples abounded, and old dwellings in a concrete plaster wash with aged pastel colors greeted us. Our shuttle could not drive us into the narrow pedestrian zone, so our luggage clunked over the heavy stones as we walked. Our hotel is ancient and our room spacious with huge wooden beams and a seating area and Austrian lace curtains and decorated in 1700s Bohemian style…all at a very affordable price. We ate beside the Vltava River and looked out at the 13th century castle above with Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque architectural elements. We then searched out a Trdelnik shop, a traditional pastry/dessert in Czech Republic. We watched as the pastry chef rolled out the dough and wrapped it around a metal cylinder, hand rolling it until flat on the cylinder, then rolling it in cinnamon before placing it on a shallow grilling surface on which the cylinder continued to spin slowly as the dessert slowly baked. When browned, the Trdelnik is slid off the cylinder piping hot with a crispy exterior and soft interior. Delicious. Off to a good night’s sleep under duvets, window’s open to the cobbled-stoned street below and cool air wafting into the room.
WEG – Tuesday, September 22, 2015
Arriving in Bozen/Balzano in the South Tyrol is difficult on a weekend when you want to rent a car. This is a different place for many reasons. Time moves more slowly here and German is predominant, even though this is Italy. Being a weekend, the car rental agencies close by 3:30 on Friday and do not open again until Monday morning. This is a traditional place and weekends are for family. Since we arrived by train, we needed to quickly hop a taxi to the regional airport, since this is the only place where a car can be rented. That meant we needed to find a place to garage the cars (we needed two–no large cars or minivans or SUV’s–for our Sunday drive). Furthermore, since this was the weekend of a large bicycle tour/race, spaces were limited. We managed to get everything done, with some effort.
It was worth it! Our drive into the Dolomites was relaxing, and the scenery was “lovely and dramatic.” The kelly green hills reached up to heavy forests which pushed up against jagged mountain peaks. The Dolomites are noted for these jagged peaks and are a UNESCO world heritage site. Small mountain villages with gabled tile roofs abounding, with yellow and white plaster buildings–some painted with imagery–were situated on sloping hillsides underneath those jagged peaks. But it is the flowers and the church buildings and steeples that steal the attention. Flowers were everywhere, in window boxes, in gardens, in street pottery and hanging from antique light posts. There were bridges with cascading flowers. Round abouts had centers with huge carved wooden imagery and flowers, flowers, flowers. Reds, yellows, purples everywhere. What a refreshing sight! The church steeples were tall and slender or onion-domed. Some had decorative tile roofs. All in all, it was more than the eyes could capture, but the overall effect was magical, especially when the clouds and midsts blew in between those jagged peaks on this cool late summer day. WEG – Sunday, September 13, 2015