Out and About In Cool and Captivating Lima, Peru

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Lima is perhaps best known as a stopover on the way to more exotic destinations like Cuzco and Machu Picchu. But, recently I found myself staying for an extended period of time in the sprawling coastal city. So instead of sticking to the typical tourist plan, I decided to truly explore some of the city’s more remarkable districts. What I discovered was a dynamic tapestry of people, architecture, customs and cuisine; an intoxicating blend that makes visiting this capital city something really special.

By all standards, Lima is a very large city. Covering approximately 310 square miles, it is home to over 10 million people, or roughly one-third of the country’s entire population. The city perches high atop gargantuan green cliffs at the base of which runs a road known as the Costa Verde. Miles of two-story homes interspersed with modern mid-rise buildings, boisterous local markets and quaint city parks fan out along the coastline. Overhead, paragliders loop through the air on the strong ocean breeze, occasionally drifting perilously close to the hotels that dot the busy shore.

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One wonders how the city stays put atop the steep cliffs, which appear to be formed mostly of sand and in many places are secured only by netting. Lapping at their feet are long lines of horizontal waves, which break on the rocky shore and retreat with a noisy rumble, sweeping mounds of smooth, shiny pebbles back out to sea. Near the popular Rosa Nautica restaurant and pier, surfers ride the waves from sun-up to sundown, prudently abandoning their boards just moments before they collide with the rocky beach.

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Currently billed as the third largest city in Latin America, Lima was founded in 1535 by the Spanish Conquistador Francisco Pizarro, who laid out the original boundaries for what he envisioned to become a “City of Kings.” At the time, there were roughly 200,000 indigenous people in the area. The Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire was one of the most important campaigns in the Spanish colonization of the Americas. The Spanish ruled Peru for over 300 years, renaming the region the Viceroyalty of Peru.

In addition to suffering under occupation for centuries, Lima has endured many earthquakes (earthquake warning signs abound) and following liberation, bouts of guerrilla warfare as recently as the 1980s. A stroll through just a tiny fraction of the city’s many neighborhoods is a trip through history itself as one area morphs into another yielding up contrasting architecture and cultures characteristic of each of Lima’s distinct time periods. Worn stone sidewalks, polished smooth by centuries of use, crisscross the city, affording a constantly changing vista.

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Officially, the province of Lima is divided into 43 districts. The various coastal districts, though, are generally frequented most by tourists and their population increases with summer months. Here are some suggestions for what to see and do in some of these more popular areas.

Central Lima

As its name suggests, Central Lima is the heart of the historical Lima city. And the main plaza, called Plaza Mayor, is the core of the the 16th century city established by Pizarro. At the north end of the plaza sits the massive Palacio de Gobierno, first erected in 1535 by Pizarro and today the official residence of the President of Peru. The grandiose baroque style building has undergone many transformations over the years and now occupies an entire city block.

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To the east of the Plaza is the Archbishops Palace, a Baroque-style stone edifice with ornate cedar balconies. It is joined to the Cathedral of Lima, which houses Pizarro’s remains.

lima pizarro tomb

A short walk away is the beautiful Plaza San Martin, named for José de San Martin, an Argentinian general who led South America’s successful struggle for independence from the Spanish Empire. Known as the ‘Liberator of Peru,’ he is depicted sitting astride a horse in the center of the park. Underneath, is a bronze rendering of Madre Patria, the symbolic mother of Peru.

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Also located on the square is the magnificent Gran Hotel Bolivar, built in 1924 and at the time considered one of the most luxurious accommodations in Latin America. In the 1940s and 1950s, the hotel was a favorite among many movie stars, including Clark Gable, Orson Welles and John Wayne. Edward II, Robert Kennedy and Richard Nixon were also guests. The Gran Hotel Bolivar is known as the place that catapulted the local cocktail, the Pisco Sour, into the international spotlight.

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Now considered the national drink of both Peru and Chile, the Pisco Sour was allegedly invented by an American bartender in the 1920s.  It is composed of pisco, a high-proof spirit made from distilled grape wine, as well as sour citrus juice and other sweetener components. In Peru, bartenders usually add key lime juice, syrup, egg white, ice and Angostura bitters to the mix.

Peruvians love to offer Pisco Sours to guests and we drank them pretty much everywhere we went.

 

 

Mireflores

Miraflores was established by the Spanish in the 16th century and was later the scene of the Battle of Miraflores in the late 1800s (during the War of the Pacific) when it was sacked and burned by Chilean invaders. Today, it is where most of the luxury hotels and apartment buildings are based. Upscale shopping locations include the multi-tiered mall called Larcomar and its cliff-side bars and restaurants. Behind the high-rise hotels, we discovered quiet, tree lined streets and stopped to peek through the gates at the many beautiful stone mansions, their graceful architecture just visible above high walls draped with crimson bougainvillea and other colorful flowers.

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Huaca Pucllana, an important historical site and one of the last remaining pre-Inca ruins in the city, is located in the heart of Miraflores. The word Huaca means tomb, and the site is exactly that; a multi-tiered ceremonial center composed of mounds of hand-formed adobe bricks. Restored portions of the tomb blend seamlessly with the original structure first created by the Limas people back in AD 400. A stunning open-air restaurant of the same name faces onto the ruins, which are beautifully illuminated at night.

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Another Miraflores attraction, Lovers Park (Parque del Amor) is located on the the top of the cliffs. Its focal point is a clay statue entitled “The Kiss” (El Beso), which is surrounded by curving walls of colorful mosaics.

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San Isidro

San Isidro is an upscale district of the city that in recent years has become a major financial quarter. For tourists, the principal attraction is the Museo Larco, a former 18th century Viceroy’s house which has been converted into a museum housing an outstanding display of pre-Columbian Art. Founded by Rafael Larco Hole in 1926, the museum’s chronological galleries showcase over 4,000 years of Peruvian pottery. They also house the largest collection of jewelry used by many notable rulers of pre-Columbian Peru including crowns, earrings, and other ornaments finely wrought in gold and decorated with semi-precious stones. A separate gallery features a large collection of pre-Columbian erotic pots.

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One of the best cafes in the city, the Cafe de Museo, serves fresh Peruvian food on a cool porch amid trailing ferns and cascading bougainvillea.

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Also located in San Isidro is one of the hottest restaurants in Lima, Malabar. When our car pulled up, a hostess opened a large door in an otherwise nondescript wall to usher us in to a sleek and glamorous space. Malabar is run by culinary star Pedro Mighel Schiaffini who concocts unusual blends of Peruvian food, using local Amazonian produce that changes daily. We sampled many dishes that introduced entirely new tastes to our palates, including wild-caught fish, weird roots, unfamiliar mollusks and sauces made from exotic fruits. The dinner was complemented by a round of specialty cocktails (created by Schiaffini’s dad) served in vintage glasses.

Barranco

At the turn of the the 20th century, Barranco was known as an upper class resort community lined with old mansions. Today it is a boisterous area with brightly-painted houses, unusual tropical plants and acres of colorful flowers, including large beds of fragrant roses.

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A block west of the main plaza is the Puente de los Suspiros (Bridge of Sighs), a narrow wooden bridge that traverses an old stone stairway. We crossed the bridge and took the stairway down to the beach shoulder-to-shoulder with the local weekend crowds sporting umbrellas and towels and an infectious happy mood. Along the way we passed crowded eateries, the smoky smell of pork chorizos rising up into the later afternoon air. Sidewalk vendors sold spiral cone ice cream, frozen fruit popsicles and tiny baked treats from little pop-up stands erected along the steps.

One night we dined at the trendy outdoor restaurant, Amor Amar whose tagline reads roughly “There is no better love than the love of food.” Discretely located on a sidestreet in Barranco, the understated courtyard space features full scale trees, ivy-cloaked walls and hundreds of twinkling lights. The menu is heavy on seafood, including charela, a sea bass from the north of Peru. We also sampled delicious Peruvian dishes made with local duck, slow roasted lamb and suckling goat. The house-made ice creams and delicious desserts made of local, fresh ingredients were a perfect end to a fabulous meal.

Getting Around

We were warned in advance to be careful about taxis, many of which are not taxis at all, but scammers who will literally take you for a ride. The few instances we resorted to cabs, we made sure to negotiate a price up front. For most all of our travel, we used Uber, which provided us with a quick and easy way to get around all parts of the city.

Weather

The temperature in Lima fluctuates little from summer to winter. Expect low 60s to upper 70s December-March and low 60s to upper 60s/low 70s July-September. In January, we enjoyed days ranging around 75 degrees. Although mornings often start with a grayish cloud cover, by early afternoon it is almost always sunny. It rarely rains in Lima.

There is a stiff breeze along the coast, which can feel chilly in the mornings and evenings. In the city proper, however, the sun is strong and there is little breeze. Best to come prepared with a hat and lots of sunscreen.

For further information on Lima, what to see and do, go to peru.travel.

 

The Ins and Outs of the Extraordinary Bay of Fundy

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There are high tides and then there are really high tides. In the everyday experience of most people, the average difference between high and low tide hovers around three feet. But, there’s a tide that’s so big it’s in the Guinness Book of World Records. Measuring in at an astounding 55 feet, it is the natural phenomenon known as Canada’s Bay of Fundy. Continue reading

The Tao of Taos: Rediscovering America the Beautiful

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Framed by the majestic Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Taos, New Mexico is a place made of dreams; there’s sprawling desert, unspoiled alpine wilderness and a sun-baked adobe town, steeped in American history. The town is home to three cultures; the Tiwa-speaking Indians, and the descendants of the Spanish and Anglo settlers who came later, all of whose unique customs and traditions have blended together. Imagine a place where the Old West is still very much alive, and that would be Taos. It’s a miracle the town isn’t overridden by tourists. Continue reading

Going Underground at the Washington National Cathedral

Washington National Cathedral/Photo: herebydesign/net

When summer temperatures start to soar, it’s a blessing to find a peaceful, secluded place to unwind. That’s why this time of year, I like to head to the Washington National Cathedral. I bypass the main sanctuary, though, and take the stairs down underground. There, I find cool refuge in the beautiful chapels of the lower level. Continue reading

Madison’s Montpelier: Once Was Lost, But Now It’s Found

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 11.26.18 AMGood things really do come in small packages and the recently restored Montpelier, home of James Madison, fourth president of the United States, is no exception. Literally excavated from the sprawling, modern-day residence it had become, the presidential mansion has reclaimed its spot atop the lush green hills of Orange, Virginia. The property is well worth the visit if you’re looking to get away from it all and learn a little history, all while basking in the sweeping vistas of the beautiful Piedmont Valley.  Continue reading

The National Park Service Wants You to Find Your Park

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In a sign of the times, the National Park Service (NPS) recently unveiled a new digital program called Find Your Park. Interactive and fun, it aims to send people off on an adventure to explore America’s national parks. By bridging the gap between the real and digital worlds, NPS hopes to inspire a new generation of Americans to look beyond Yosemite and find the park that best suits them. It might be closer than you think. Continue reading

Ringing In the New Year In Old Quebec City

 

Source: www.quebecregion.com

Photo of Quebec City/ www.quebecregion.com

Every year my husband and I choose a new place to spend New Year’s Eve. This year we decided to give Quebec City a try. We chose the old Canadian city for its storybook charm and the fact that I could practice my French with the locals. Yes, we’d heard that the weather could be witheringly cold; but we packed up our warmest clothes anyway, hopped on a plane and headed north.

The day we arrived a cold air mass swept southward from the Arctic, driving the temperatures down to a frigid minus 5° Fahrenheit and below. As we exited the plane, the air sliced into our faces, prompting the flight attendant to shake her head sympathetically. Turns out we were in good company. Even the Canadians were feeling the chill.

THE CITY

Quebec City is located on the banks of the St. Lawrence River and is one of the oldest cities in North America. Founded in 1608 by French settlers, it is the only walled city left in the Americas north of Mexico.

IMG_4756The older part of the city, referred to as Vieux Québec, is European in flavor, taking its cues from French architectural style. There are narrow cobblestoned streets, numerous Catholic churches and hundreds of centuries’ old stone and wood houses built in the New France Style (an adaptation of early French home forms to Quebec’s harsh winter climate.)

The majestic Chateau Frontenac, “the world’s most photographed hotel” sits high atop the city’s promontory, Cap-aux-Diamants, from where it dominates the skyline. A wooden terrace, known as the Dufferin Terrace, girdles the back of the hotel. From its perch on the cliff edge, the terrace provides sweeping views of the St. Lawrence River as well as easy access to the Citadelle, a fortress whose original ramparts still surround much of the city.

 

Tuesday, December 30

On our first day, we awoke to temQuebec City 00003peratures hovering around -5° Fahrenheit. So we bundled up in everything we owned (which for me included two coats) and joined the holiday throng moving at a brisk pace through the narrow winding streets of the city.

Heading downhill from Quebec’s upper town, we arrived within minutes in the Quartier Petit Champlain, North America’s oldest neighborhood and the site of Quebec’s first port. The area features some of the original houses constructed soon after French explorer Samuel de Champlain chose the area in 1608 as the site for New France’s first permanent settlement.

IMG_4817Today the quaint neighborhood streets are lined with colorful art galleries, boutiques, restaurants and bistros. We stopped briefly in front of Notre-Dame-des-Victoires, a stone church erected in 1688 atop the ruins of Champlain’s first outpost. The one-room church is so named in recognition of how the Virgin Mary, on two separate occasions, protected Quebec City from danger. It presides over the square called Place Royale.

From the Petit Champlain, we headed over to the Musée de la Civilisation, a modern, interactive museum, which includes, among other interesting exhibits, a comprehensive history of Quebec with lots of great visuals.

A few steps away from the museum, we found the Café du Monde, a spacious Parisian style brasserie located right on the waterfront in the Terminal des Croisières. A grand circular stair led to a glittering, mirrored space with banks of windows overlooking the St. Lawrence. While we dined on oysters and fresh regional salads, we struck up a conversation in a mix of English and French with fellow diners, who offered us insights into what to see and do in Quebec.

After lunch we wound our way back along the cobblestoned streets and up the steep staircase known as ‘L’Escalier Casse-Cou’ (Break Neck Stairs) to the aforementioned Dufferin Terrace. The terrace is named after Lord Dufferin, the governor of Canada frIMG_4759om 1872 to 1878, who fought against the demolition of the Citadelle. It is thanks to his efforts that the remains of the original fort can still be seen today.

That evening, we had dinner on the Rue Saint Louis at Aux Anciens Canadiens, described as a “Bastion of Canadian Country Cooking.” The tiny establishment comprises two buildings, one dating back to 1675 and the founding of the original French Regime. Specialties of the house include bison, caribou, deer and wapiti, meat pies and Grandma’s original pea soup. We ordered deer with blueberry sauce and chicken and ratatouille and capped off the evening with homemade vanilla ice cream drizzled with fresh maple syrup followed by shots of vodka and cranberry (a tradition of the house.)

 

Wednesday, December 31

We awoke to another almost unbearably frigid morning (this time the temperature read -10° F.) Since walking around outside for more than a few minutes seemed out of the question, we rented a car and headed off to Montmorency Falls, which is located just a few minutes from Quebec City.

Quebec City 00017Montmorency Falls is the largest waterfall on the Montmorency River. At 275 feet high, the falls are the highest in Quebec, measuring over 98 feet higher than those of Niagara. Champlain named them after Henri II, duc de Montmorency, who served as viceroy of New France from 1620 until 1625.

The falls pour with fury over a cliff into a basin before cascading down into the St. Lawrence River. At the time of our visit, much of the basin was frozen. Defying all logic, we took a lift up where we joined a few other brave souls surveying the falls from a suspended bridge. Here, we were rewarded with roaring jets of frothy white water spewing from enormous jigsaw-shaped pieces of ice. A series of tantalizing pathways fanned outwards from the bridge to the Montmorency Park, which we agreed would be a beautiful place to visit under more favorable conditions.

IMG_4774On the way back into the city we drove by the Plains of Abraham, an historic battlefield located on the Cape Diamond to the west of Chateau Frontenac. The broad grassy plain was the scene of a 1759 battle between the British and French that left control of Quebec City to the British. Today the park comprises 12 km of ski trails for cross country skiers and provides a venue for outdoor concerts and other festivals.

Up on the Grande Allée, one of the city’s most popular squares, preparations were underway for a large-scale New Years Eve party. We saw restaurants heating up their outdoor patios on the periphery as workers erected a large soundstage and dance floor. A sparkling Ferris wheel dominated one corner of the square.

We rang in the New Year with a sumptuous seven-course dinner at Le Patriarche, located adjacent to the Porte Saint-Jean, one of two surviving entrances to the old city. The restaurant is situated in a small stone home built in the early 1800’s. The menu adheres to the “Rule of Three” administered by its executive chef who concocts savory combinations of flavors in triplet for each course. Specialties of the house include game and foie gras. We dined on Calville Bay’s oysters, sea-urchin soup, foie gras on brioche, rabbit with Japanese artichoke, seabream with fennel and Waguy beef and capped off the evening with a citrus ice followed by a warm dark chocolate soufflé.

IMG_4782Snow was just beginning to fall as we heard the first fireworks explode up on the Grande Allée.  As thick white flakes began to dust the centuries old architecture, it wasn’t hard to imagine the first settlers enjoying their own New Year’s eves, so many centuries ago.

 

Thursday, January 1

The flakes continued to fall over night and we awoke on New Year’s Day to a snowstorm though, strangely, the temperature had risen by 20 degrees. The tiny streets were now filled with boisterous crowds in full winter gear, boots crunching on the snow-packed ground. We trudged up the hill to the Chateau Frontenac to sample the hotel’s renowned afternoon Wine and Cheese Tasting held in a beautiful circular bar with views out onto the river.

The lobby was teeming with people and in every direction we could see neat rows of illuminated trees extending down the long hotel hallways. At the cozy bar, we settled into a pair of large leather chairs by the fire. Here, we sampled a selection of local cheeses paired with red wine and coffee and sat back to savor the international flavor of the crowd.

Although we hardly had any appetite left at all, we agreed it would be a shame to miss dinner at Le Saint-Amour, considered one of the most romantic restaurants in Quebec. Chef and co-owner Jean-Luc Boulay was voted best chef in Quebec and is famous for his culinary skills with duck foie gras.

The ultra-chic restaurant shines Screen Shot 2015-01-03 at 10.21.34 PMwith its beautiful and eclectic décor, including a 35’ tall main dining room embellished with glossy red woodwork, gold rococo-style mirrors and original works of art. Enormous planters filled with ferns hang from the ceiling and a large living tree occupies the dining room’s center.

The friendly staff served us an exceptional meal of scallops on Parmesan risotto and Arctic char with crispy shallots; the latter accompanied by Beluga lentils and local vegetables presented in a tiny brass pot. We capped off our final evening in Quebec with the chef’s dessert sampler consisting of miniature macaroons in all flavors, pairs of chocolate domes, mini chocolate ice cream sandwiches on sticks and small goblets of mousse with strawberries. OH, and the best mini chocolate chip cookies we had ever tasted.

There are so many great restaurants to try in Quebec City as well as cafés and bistros serving top-notch fare. My list is by no means exhaustive and was constricted only by the length of our visit and the size of my waistline.  For other great suggestions when planning your next trip go to tripadvisor.com.

Cover photo: www.quebecregion.com   For more information on Quebec City and its many festivals (in all seasons) including the upcoming Winter Festival in February,  click here

 

 

Every City Has Its Limits: The Story of D.C.’s Boundary Stones

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Jones Point in Alexandria, Virginia, site of the first boundary marker

If you’re traveling to Washington, D.C., it’s good to know that the oldest federal monuments are not located on the National Mall, but rather at one-mile increments along a 10-mile square beginning at Jones Point, Virginia. Laid in 1791 and 1792, they are simple in form, but of great historical significance. They are the 36 surviving boundary markers of the original District of Columbia and the oldest federally placed monuments in the United States.

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