Tag Archives: City

Day 5 (I) – Split….

19th September. Now that I am a gentleman of leisure, one of the annoying aspects of being on holiday is having to get up early. An alarm set for 0630 seems to be par for the course for this holiday, bringing back dark memories of life as an employee, whereas having to set an alarm at all in normal life is a bit of a bore and if one has to do it, it should be no earlier than 0730. So the news from Željko that we would have to depart our hotel at 0600 in order to be on an 0630 catamarn bound for the town of Split was met with something of a groan. It turned out, as did so many of his plans, to be a good idea, but coherent thought, smooth co-ordination and swift action at 0500 are not my forte.

Anyhoo…at 0600 we bundled our cases onto a bus and stumbled down to the harbour in Bol, just as the sun was going about his (or her) business for the day.

and the catamaran duly arrived

to take us to Split, a journey of just over an hour to a very handsome town. At one stage, it used to be just this place on the Dalmatian coast, until this Roman chap, Diocles, came along, liked the weather and the local availability of fine (Brač) stone, and decided it would be just the spot to retire to once he stopped bothering about being Emperor, so he had a big Palace built there, which now forms about half of the old town of Split.

Željko had arranged for us to have a guided tour, and we met Malenka, who took us round the main sights of the Palace. As we went round, the reason for our very early departure became clear – the Palace fills with tourists very quickly, and by getting there promptly we were actually able to see it when it wasn’t mobbed. It’s an impressive site, with some of the original construction supplemented by modern reconstruction.

Some of the locals actually live within the confines of the palace; people had set up house there before its historical (and touristic) value was truly recognised, and so there are homes and apartments dotted around the site. It’s now a UNESCO world heritage site, which is in part funding the reconstruction, and Malenka explained that UNESCO rules were that any reconstruction work had to be clearly recognisable as such. So, in the photo below, it is quite clear to see which is original tilework and which is modern

as it is with this mosaic.

I shan’t bore you with too many photos of the Palace – go and see it for yourself, and get a guided tour to give you some extra insight as you go round, is my recommendation. But there are some nice courtyards off the main streets

as a stark contrast to the crowded Hell that is “souvenir alley”, the corridor leading from the South Gate.

The sheer number of tourists has (unsurprisingly) had its impact. For example, there’s one square which used to have tables and chairs set out outside a restaurant, but now they are limited to setting up places on the steps.

Outside the confines of the Palace proper, there are some scenic corners

and you can see where building started by leaning extra houses against the Palace walls.

There is a large, sprawling and busy market with many opportunities to buy local produce (Jane bought some of the local tangerines which were, indeed, very tangy)

and the area around the Palace is, generally, very crowded.

That being the case, we decided to take up on a suggestion from Malenka and head over to a quieter aera of Split, towards the Marjan Forest Park (Šuma Marjan), which is on a hill to the north-east of the harbour.

(in the middle of the hill in the photo above, you can see the terrace of the bar ViDiLiCi where we stopped for a coffee and a beer). It’s a pleasant walk up a stepped road

and the terrace I mention above has a good view over the town

as has the walk back down towards the town.

All too soon we had to reconvene to catch the (somewhat knee-crunchingly cramped) tour bus to take us to the next stage of the day, in the Krka National Park, which held the promise of some spectacular scenery. So, to see this, read on, dear reader, read on….

The Machu Picture Trail

14th April 2018

[Extra-long read alert]

As I’ve mentioned before, we were staying in Urubamba, at the very lovely Inkaterra Hacienda. In order to tick the next box, sorry, experience the next wonder on our journey, we had to get somewhere near Machu Picchu so that we could hike up to see one of the wonders of the tourist world, the sight of Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate. The accepted way to do this is by PeruRail train from Ollantaytambo. The downside of this way is the logistics, which involved getting up at 4.30am to be taken by taxi at 5.30am once again up that bloody bumpy road into Ollantaytambo. However, our guide for the trek, Alex, had done a good job of making sure that things worked smoothly. We arrived in good time for our train, which was due to leave at 0710, with tickets and passports in hand, both of which are necessary for the journey.

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The train is described as a Vistadome train, which means it has large windows, and also some windows in the ceilings of each compartment to give the passengers the maximum chance of catching the scenery. It’s pretty good scenery, it has to be said.

Urubamba River scene

During the journey, snacks and drinks are served, and we had a chance to chat to the Australian couple who had seats opposite ours. We spent much more of the journey listening to the husband rather than having a conversation, but they were clearly good-hearted people and they’d travelled extensively so had some interesting stories to tell.

The train stopped at the border of the Machu Picchu national park for the madmen, sorry, keen beans who were doing the 4-day hike to get off and start punishing themselves. It then stopped some distance further on, at a point formally called “Kilometre 104”, which was our cue to get off and start our 1-day hike. Again, we had to provide our passports before being allowed to proceed (no-one is allowed on the trails without (a) booking the date and (b) a guide – this enables the authorities to control the numbers on the trails).

And so we were off. The trail we were doing consists of a long, consistently uphill section starting at about 2,100 metres altitude and toiling up to a place called Wiñay Wayna at 2,560m, followed by an “Inca flat”, i.e. not particularly steep up or down, section leading to the final pull up to the Sun Gate. It was spitting with rain for much of the first section, but not so much that it spoiled anything, and we got some great views as we went up. This, for example, is just down the track from where we got off, showing a passing place for trains near a hydro-electric station (now disused after being wiped out by flooding and replaced by another, bigger one elsewhere).

PeruRail Trains Crossing

and you can just see the green roof of our starting point at the foot of this photo.

View along the Urubamba River

This is the sort of trail we were hiking

and it moves relentlessly upwards.

Alex and Jane share an interest in flowers, particuarly orchids, and I have to say I was grateful to Jane for engaging Alex in conversation about the various species to be found, as this gave me a chance for a breather whilst they chatted and I took photos of various orchids along the way (we found 12 different species in all, a record for Alex); here are a couple:

An orchid on the trek

There were also wild lupins growing along the route.

Every so often, we had to stand aside as porters (supporting the multi-day hikes) came down the mountain – carrying camping equipment and at a run, for God’s sake!

Porters running down the hill

Eventually, the relentless uphill stopped and we had arrived at Wiñay Wayna (which is also the final camping spot for those on the 4-day hike). Alex had mentioned that there was an Inca site there, but I had never heard the name before, and so hadn’t thought it would be of any great pith or moment. How wrong I was!

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This site has been described as a mini Machu Picchu, and one can see why. Its name means “Forever Young” in Quecha, which is a reference to the perpetual greenness of the grass on the terraces, kept irrigated by clever Inca design and building. It displays many of the Inca skills with stoneworking and offers some stunning views.

Wiñay Wayna

We stopped at the camping spot for some lunch and then moved on towards our final destination. On the way, we had a fine view of the first section of our hike.

The zig-zag trail you can see on the right-hand slope is what we walked up to get to Wiñay Wayna.

About 90 minutes after leaving Wiñay Wayna, we were getting very near to the Sun Gate, whence you get the Famous View. But there are a couple of obstacles you have to overcome beforehand. First is a 53-step, very steep, section of the trail. Alex used this as an opportunity to show off

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doing it in 13 seconds (his record is 12 seconds, but he’s a young thing and likes mountaineering and stuff like that). And then, almost immediately, there’s the final pull up to the Sun Gate.

The final steps up to the Sun Gate

And then……there you are. The View.

Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate

Is it me, or is this a bit of an anti-climax? Seeing this, I felt the same way as I had on first seeing Stonehenge, which I had expected to be a massive, towering edifice, but which turned out to be, well, just a group of stones in the middle of a large open space. Perhaps my vision isn’t good enough to pick out the detail, but I found that as we got closer there were many more rewarding views of the site, where you could actually begin to understand the phenomenal complexity of what had been achieved by the Incas.

Machu Picchu - scale and complexity

We carried on to the site,

and its true breath-taking nature became ever clearer as we got nearer.

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And getting on to the site itself gives some awe-inspiring views

Machu Picchu - my favourite photo

as well as some less awe-inspiring, but quite charming, as there are llamas on the site.

Llama at Machu Picchu

Alex is as knowledgeable about Machu Picchu as only someone with a passion for a topic can be, and he had all sorts of fascinating insights into the history and culture of the place as well as its astonishing architecture.

We took a bit of a break at this point, as it was late on in the afternoon (which was good, as it meant the site was not crowded), so we took the (very bumpy, bouncy, twisty, turny, 10km) bus ride down to Machu Picchu village (also called Aguas Calientes) for the evening. Jane and I stayed at another splendid Inkaterra hotel, the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo. This is a resort-style hotel at the eastern end of the village and it shares the same high-quality brand values as its sister location in Urubamba, except the Pisco Sours are even better.

The next day, the site was much more crowded (this platform was empty when we were there the day before)

Crowds taking THE postcard photo

but it wasn’t too intolerable. The second day’s visit provided some more insights into the details (as well as some more great views)

A lot of work goes into maintining the site, with workmen removing vegetation from the stonework

and even abseiling down the walls to keep them in good shape.

The vast scope of the terracing becomes clear as you walk around

and the trademark Inca Trapezoid shape can be seen everywhere.

Inca archway at Machu Picchu

The temple part of the site has a formal entrance gate

alongside which can be seen the demarcation line between the religious part and the farming part of the site.

There are ceremonial chambers with specially shaped stones for sacrifical purposes (llamas got a raw deal, particuarly black ones, which were regarded as being extra lucky in sacrifice). this is the Temple of the Sun

Temple enclouse and ceremonial stone

and this is the Temple of the Condor.

note the special runnels in the sacrifical stone for the blood to run off in a controlled way.

The site has extensive living quarters, some for farmers, some for noble and religious leaders,

and some roofing has been reconstructed, albeit using eucalyptus wood instead of bamboo to support the thatching.

House with reconstructed roof at Machu Picchu

Note the rope ties and pegs used to hold things in place.

And, all over the site, there is evidence of the astonishing stoneworking abilities of the Incas, with intricate interlocking patterns, and even rounding in the corners.

Detailed Inca stonework in Machu Picchu

The quality and robustness of the Inca stonework is shown in its resistance to earthquake damage. This is not universal, though.

This is a temple chamber (you can tell by the niches, which were used to contain idols) that one might think had suffered earthquake damage. However, there’s a photo from 1911 – well before recent and serious earthquakes – which shows this damage, and it’s now widely accepted that it was caused by dynamiting in creation of the local railway. This is, of course, a shame, and it’s good to see that the authorities are taking some steps to control access and to maintain the site. However, one gets the sad impression from talking to guides and others that there are urgent investments needed which are unlikely to be made. One can only hope that common sense reigns so that the wonders of Machu Picchu are preserved for future generations to marvel at.

Lima – Bean there, done that

10th April 2018

When our plane landed at Lima airport, the cabin crew announced that it was in Callao province, 15 minutes from the centre of Lima.


Nowhere in Lima is as short as a 15-minute drive from anywhere else. In Quito, our guide, Paul, warned us about the traffic, but no warning can prepare you for the reality. The congestion is bad, but I’ve seen worse (downtown Bangkok, London near the ExCel when they close the Blackwall tunnel); however add in the local driving style, and that makes a ride through the traffic an exciting and thrilling experience. Our entire journey from the airport was one long game of chicken, a distracting backdrop to the (actually very useful) information that our guide was giving us about our schedule whilst in Peru.

It seems that some preparation for altitude is necessary (and Sunvil had arranged a smooth increase in altitude across successive destinations, from Lima (sea level) via Sacred Valley (2400m) to Machu Picchu (2800m) to Cusco (2400m) to Lake Titicaca (3800m – the last time I was that high was in the Swiss Alps, and the simple effort of walking along a corridor carrying skis made little spots dance before my eyes). So we were given this advice to mitigate altitude sickness:

  • Drink plenty of water
  • Avoid drinking coffee and eating meat
  • Eat fish and cooked vegetables
  • Drink coca tea or chew coca leaves
  • Above all, take it easy

The last one is within my DNA; let’s see how the others work.

In the hotel is a sign that might give your average European traveller pause:
Warning notice in the hotel

Our schedule included a morning tour of Lima, and we had a very charming guide called Hernando to show us around. It became clear that Lima, unlike many other capital cities, was not going to be very easy to get a flavour of. We actually spent two hours of the three-and-a-half sitting in traffic, while Hernando alternately regaled us with information about the history and culture of Lima and Peru and indicated points of interest as we ground past them (unable to stop and take photos, unfortunately). There are many handsome buildings dotted around Lima that date from one or two centuries ago. Unfortunately, the space between these buildings has been taken up with many more modern buildings which are (a) ugly, (b) tatty and (c) in many cases unfinished. Rather like London, really, but much, much scruffier and without the rain.

The first thing Hernando showed us was a pre-Inca site for which preservation efforts are being made – a huge pyramidal ceremonial site made out of adobe bricks. (We later got a chance to take a couple of photos.)

Pre Inca Ruins Huaca Pucllana

The Incas were known as builders who thought big, but they came relatively late to this part of the world, and various tribes had been here for three or four thousand years before they came, and it was they who built this site, and many others around Lima, since destroyed. And then, of course, came the Spanish, led by Pizarro, who built and declared Lima as the capital and ruled the area until Peru declared independence in 1822. The time of Spanish rule is referred to as the “colonial” period, and the centre of Lima does represent an opportunity to walk around and see some of the highlights. These include the very handsome main square, with the cathedral

Lima Cathedral

the Mayor’s offfice

Mayor's office, Lima

and other significant buildings such as the Presidential Palace (from the 1930s, too big and ugly to be worth a photo). Other buildings we saw included the old railway station, now a literary centre of some kind,

The old railway station in Lima

and the old Post Office, now lined with tat stalls, but not without its charm.

The old Post Office Building in Lima

However, a large chunk of the 90 minutes spent walking around in Lima was spent at the Franciscan monastery, which, rather like the one in Quito, is large, imposing and which forbids photography. However, the ban is poorly policed and so I sneaked a few phone shots. There are cloisters

Cloister with carved ceiling

surrounding a peaceful garden.

Monastery courtyard

and used to store some impressive processional items.

Processional equipment

The inside of the church is striking

Church interior

and, off to the side, in the choir, were some beautifully-carved pews where the monks could study their magnificently-illuminated texts – supported by small perches called “misericordia” (mercy) rather than having to stand for hours.

Misericordia in the Choir

In exhibition cases were a couple of original examples of illustrated texts. They are things of beauty, but what particularly entranced me was the early musical notation included with the texts .

Original music for plainsong chant

There was a macabre element to our visit as we visited the catacombs, where, at one stage, up to 35,000 (poor) people were buried (the rich could afford their own mausolea, of course). Actually, the available spaces had been filled, (brick-built compartments filled with levels of bodies covered in earth and lime) to the point where the bodies (or what remained of them, ie skulls and large bones) had been exhumed, ready to start again, when the use of the catacombs was discontinued. So there were bones, bones, bones everywhere, laid out in chests, used in decoration on staircases

Macabre scenes in the catacombs

and even in a well!

Macabre scenes in the catacombs

After our morning with Hernando, we visited a large, underground shopping centre called Locarmar, on the edge of the cliffs and not too far from our hotel.

LarcoMar Shopping Centre

There we had a nice lunch at a nice eatery called Tanta, a place which was fairly unique in that it served no wine (but the pisco sours were excellent, and it offered local-ish Cusqueña beer, which was quite palatable); and the kitchen was sufficiently broken that they couldn’t offer the dish they described as being their most popular – lomo saltado, a beef stir-fry. But we managed to find a few local dishes that they could serve (Jaranita Criolla, a sharing dish with various appetisers and Tacutacu a la Pobre, which was fried surloin steak in batter, with a fried banana, topped with a fried egg and served on a bed of fried rice – actually very lovely but too vast to finish).

So passed our time in Lima. In principle, it would have been nice to see a wider variety of city sights outside just the colonial quarter, but it’s so difficult to get around that it’s simply not possible in a single day; but it was good to have got the historical and cultural background from Hernando, as well as his despairing commentary about the difficulty of ever finding a political leader who wasn’t corrupt, and so we were able to leave with at least a flavour of the place.

Our departure was in parts amusing and frustrating. In normal cities, to drive to an airport, you get on to the relevant motorway which leads you smoothly and directly to the departure terminal. Unsurprisngly this is not so in Lima. The official route from our hotel (the Crowne Plaza in Miraflores) to the airport, according to a search engine of your choice, seemed to be straightforward – along the coast, up a major highway and into the airport – 13 km and 30 minutes.


We did spend some time going along the coast, which emphasised Lima’s odd geography, as the city itself is at the top of a clifff that’s up to 100m high, with a long beach area at the bottom. But then our driver appeared to go off on one. If we han’t been accompanied by a rep from our travel organisation, I would have feared for my life, or perhaps just my bank balance, as we went up narrow streets, through car parks, and round the back of some very dodgy-looking estates, all the time playing the national game of traffic chicken.

Anyhoo…we got to the airport in only just under an hour, dropped our bags and headed into the departure lounge, hoping to get away from the pandemonium of landside Lima airport. All we did was move into the pandemonium of airside Lima airport, which featured a single coffee lounge with all available seats taken, and no other refreshment possibilities. We eventually were given a gate, so went there and managed to find somewhere to sit. Then a gate change was announced, so we trudged to the new gate. Then, and only then, was a flight delay of over an hour announced – and a later Cusco flight’s passengers were directed to our original gate; heaven knows what fate awaited them. Quite what byzantine processes and intricate relationship between airline and airport can lead to this particular chain of events is beyond me (mind you, it was foggy as hell outside). A further annoyance was that the delay meant my free WiFi ran out and I had to pay to stay online. Honestly, it’s shocking.