28.10.11

Great video to promote Peru

Great, and very funny, video by the body charged with promoting Peru. Not to be missed!!!!


Pictures of Cusco sent by one of our readers

Pictures by @REduardo

26.10.11

Birthplace of Picasso

What do the following have in common? The Annual Conference of Emerging Technologies of the MIT; an international Jazz Festival; Flamenco; and tapas: It's all happening in Malaga .
Behind is laid back appearance, the city of Malaga is a vibrant place. When asked to name something about Malaga, a lot of people may say, Marbella, Costa del Sol, beaches, sun. Malaga is, of course, all of these and much more, and a visit to the capital city is very worthwhile. There are plenty of hotels to choose from and even a choice of two Paradores.
The main street of Larios (or Marques de Larios to give it it´s full name) is your point of reference. Walking northwards you come to Plaza de la Constitución, the historical centre of the city. To the East of Larios you will find the Cathedral, which was built on the site of a mosque, and which is still unfinished in parts (look at the south tower). Not far from the Cathedral, walking along the narrow streets, you arrive at the Picasso Museum , a modest collection considering the prolificacy of the painter, but worth a visit. Five minutes from the museum, in Plaza de la Merced, we come to the birthplace of Picasso. This is the house where the artist was born 130 years ago and now another small museum dedicated to him.
The city also has a Roman theatre, the Castle of Gibralfaro with great views of the city, and the Alcazaba (a moorish fortification) and a new Thyssen Museum dedicated to Spanish painting.
After all the walking, you have earned yourselves a spot of lunch. I would recommend tapas at Lo Güeno . I see that they have opened a new place in Calle Strachan which I have yet to try.

25.10.11

The city founded by the siblings of Inti, the sun god

Legend has it that the siblings of the sun god Inti, Manco Cápac and his sister and wife Mama Ocllo, emerged from Lake Titicaca charged with the task of founding a new kingdom that would improve the living conditions of the people. They walked until they found a place where Manco Cápac could sink in the earth his large sceptre of gold and, thus, arrived to the city we know today as Cusco in Peru . The new kingdom was to be known as the Inca Empire. Before going any further, I must point out that Cusco is around 3,400 metres above sea level and at that altitude, to put it simply, there is much less oxygen, so you may suffer from altitude illnesses. This is not as serious as it sounds and it affects people in different ways (you may have headaches, feel nauseous and weak) or not at all. In my case, for example, I was lucky and it did not affect me. You should drink plenty of water, avoid tobacco and alcohol and take it easy, at least at the beginning of your stay. There are also medications, like Diamox that allows you to breathe faster, and that your doctor or pharmacist can prescribe. You can also try the local remedy which is "mate de coca" (or coca tea) which is made from coca plant leaves. It is safe to drink and is given to visiting dignitaries on official visits, but I suggest you make your own enquiries about it.
The hotel we stayed at was the Hotel Monasterio , a stay I shall never forget. A former monastery dating from 1592 where, if you wish, you can have oxygen pumped into your room. The hotel is part of the Orient-Express chain and you could combine your stay there with the visit to Machu Picchu in the Hiram Bingham luxury train and maybe a stay at the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge hotel, which is the only hotel located adjacent to the site. The Hotel Monasterio is just by the main square, the Plaza de Armas, and thus, walking distance from most of the places there are to see in Cusco (the Cathedral, the church and convent of La Merced, the area of San Blas and the amazing walled complex of Sacsayhuaman, just outside Cusco, where the Inti Raymi festivities in honour of Inti, the sun god, take place every year on 24th of June). I would also advise a visit to the Pre-Columbian Art Museum . However, the "jewel in the crown" of any visit to Cusco is the  Inca site of Machu Picchu, about 80 kms. from Cusco. The site is impressive and when you first see it you will probably experience a sensation of awe, at the enormity and beauty of the place. I imagine, the same feeling that Hiram Bingham had when he first came across the site. To get there, you can either follow the Inca Trail; take the luxurious, and expensive, Hiram Bingham train; or the more moderately priced vistadome , with a glass roof so that you can enjoy the scenery. The train ride of around 4 hours will take you to the station of Machu Picchu Pueblo, from where you will have to take a bus for the 30 minute ride to the actual site. It is also important to point out that given the number of visitors, the authorities have placed a daily limit to the number of visitors that can access the site. It is therefore advisable to book in advance, either buying a package at PeruRail or at the official Machu Picchu site.

To end this post a recommendation that you try the Peruvian cuisine, which will be the theme of another post. In the meantime, just remember: ceviche, ají de gallina, causa, and the cocktail Pisco Sour!!

24.10.11

Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds

In 1841, the British journalist Charles Mackay wrote the book, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, to narrate the events surrounding the Tulip mania that took hold of Holland in the 17th Century and that led to the first speculative bubble and financial crisis when it eventually burst. We obviously never learn. However, there is a difference with the crisis we are enduring today. The Dutch were left with beautiful tulips and a striving industry based on them. What are the rest of us left with? Derilict properties, toxic assets, and some very greedy and rich bankers. But let's concentrate on something nice and go back to Holland and more specifically, Amsterdam.
Amsterdam, if you find good weather, is a wonderful place to just wander around, provided you are careful not to get run over by one of the 400.000 bicycles that circulate in the city. Walk around the canals, sit down for a drink in one of its many cafes and just take in the atmosphere of this cosmopolitan city.
Though there are plenty of hotels to choose from, we particularly like the Hotel Okura  by the Amstel Canal. The hotel is not in the centre of Amsterdam and to walk to, say, Museumplein will take you around 20 minutes or 10 minutes by tram. The location is excellent if you are attending a fair at the RAI Convention Centre and you do get a spacious room and excellent service.
Down the road from the hotel there are a number of cafes and restaurants. For a very good Japanese teppanyaki, try Sapporo , and for very good and affordable Indonesian food Djago is a very good choice. My recommendation is to try one of their Rijsttafel, or rice table. (Scheldeplein 18, Tel.: 020 664 2013 - Open 5-9.30pm Mon-Fri, Sun).
Given that my wife loves tulips, these have prominence in any trip to Holland. In Amsterdam, a visit to the Amsterdam Tulip Museum is obligatory. Besides being a great place to learn everything there is to learn about tulips, you can also buy tulip (and other flowers) bulbs and you will also receive very good advice. One piece of advice that figures prominently on their web page is not to buy bulbs between February and mid-July.
But, if you really want to see tulips, you must visit Keukenhof , a park in Lisse, about 35 Kms. from Amsterdam. If you can, it's best to visit in mid-April when tulips should be in full bloom. This is also the place where you can order tulip bulbs that are sent to you at the end of October, so that you can plant them in November. You can buy a combiticket at the Tourist Information Office in Leidseplein for 25 Euros which includes transport and entrance to the park. However, getting there by public transport can be a bit of a hassle, especially if there are a lot of people, and believe me, there will be. You have to catch the 197 bus from Leidseplein or Museumplein that takes you to Schiphol airport and there, change to the Keukenhof bus 58. Another option is to book an excursion through your hotel - more comfortable but you may have to spend less time at the park.
Another favourite of Amsterdam are its museums, especially, the Van Gogh Museum , and the Rijksmuseum .

(Following pictures are courtesy of @diloumt)


21.10.11

...to endure its common-place after the poetry of the Alhambra

In the Sierra Nevada mountain range in Granada (Spain) you will find the Pass of the Moor's Sigh. Legend has it, that this is the exact spot where in 1492, Boabdil, the last Moorish Sultan of Granada, on the way to his exile, turned back to have a last glimpse at the city he loved. It was here too that his mother reproached him: "You do well, to weep as a woman over what you could not defend as a man"- maybe politically incorrect, but it was 500 years ago!
I suppose anyone would cry if you lived in the Alhambra and you had to leave forever. You would not be able to walk around the beautiful gardens, you could not smell the scent of the flowers, nor listen to the sound of water spouting from myriad fountains and running from cascades.
Some of the best views of the complex of the Alhambra are to be had from two neighborhoods that are attractions in themselves, namely, Albaicín and Sacromonte. The Albaicín was the Muslim district of Granada, with narrow streets and characteristic white houses with an interior courtyard or "carmen". At the highest point of Albaicín you will find the Mirador de San Nicolás for a breathtaking view of the Alhambra. Sacromonte is the district where the gypsies of Granada settled. Some did so in caves and, nowadays, you can still see houses literally carved out from a cave.
La Alhambra is alluring and in modern times, Washington Irving, who wrote "Tales of the Alhambra", whilst actually staying there, wrote when he left:
“My serene and happy reign in the Alhambra was suddenly brought to a close by letters which reached me, while indulging in Oriental luxury in the cool hall of the baths, summoning me away... to mingle once more in the bustle and business of the dusty world. How was I to encounter its toils and turmoils, after such a life of repose and reverie! How was I to endure its common-place, after the poetry of the Alhambra!”.
Whilst you may be tempted to spend all your time in Granada wondering around the Alhambra, the city and surrounding areas offers much more. Walk around the old Jewish quarters known as el Realejo; the square of Bib-Rambla where, among other delicacies, you can savor sugar coated "churros"; the Cathedral; visit the summerhouse of the family of the poet Federico García Lorca, who was born in the village of Fuentevaqueros just outside Granada; drive around the villages of the area of La Alpujarra, where the hispanist Gerald Brenan settled in 1920; enjoy the food, the night life and flamenco dancing and singing; or ski down the slopes of Sierra Nevada . Enjoy!



El Albaicín (view from the Alhambra)


Courtyard of the Lions - La Alhambra


La Alhambra (detail)


Gardens in La Alhambra



View of the Alhambra

La Alhambra 1



La Alhambra 2


La Alhambra 3
  

La Alhambra 4

Six ways to deal with pushy street vendors

I recently tweeted the link to the above article that appeared in Frommer’s . I would advise a seventh way, but only for the most adventorous. The first time, I travelled to Egypt, I went with a friend of mine. We were standing by the Great Pyramid of Giza and in an instant were approached by a vendor selling postcards. My friend, who is not easily intimidated, engaged the vendor and began to haggle. After a few minutes, I watched the expression of surprise in the face of the vendor. My friend had in his possession most of the postcards that the vendor intended to sell and he did this without parting with any of his money. In fact, he actually got some money from the vendor!.
In the end, he gave the vendor back the postcards and his money and, no, my friend is not a second hand car dealer.
True story.

19.10.11

Ride in a police car in Buenos Aires

It happened in Buenos Aires.
Buenos Aires is a great city. I have visited a few times and it’s always a pleasure to go back. Insecurity is sometimes an issue, but the times I have been there I have felt safe. It’s a question of taking the same precautionary measures that you would take almost anywhere in the world. On our first trip to Buenos Aires, one morning we decided to visit Boca. This part of town is where the, mostly Italian, immigrants established themselves from 1880 to the 1930's. Today, it is a tourist attraction because of its characteristic houses, for being home to the Boca Junior football club and because of the tango "Caminito" or "little path". This path inspired the composer of the music of this very famous tango, Juan de Dios Filiberto. I was also aware that it was not a good idea to walk the area at night, since it was still a bit...rough. That morning, we took a taxi from the hotel to Caminito, and at around midday we decided to go back to the hotel. It was sunny and given the hour, we decided to walk back. We walked about 300 metres and met a police from the port, whom we asked for directions. He looked surprised when we told him we were walking back to the hotel and said that it was not very advisable to do so around that area. He pointed as in the direction of a street, five minutes away, where we could take a taxi. We had only walked a couple of minutes when a police car drove up to us, flagged us down and asked, very politely, if we needed help and where we were going. When we explained one of the police officers said: "You are obviously not from here. Jump in and we'll give you a lift". We did and they drove us to the nearest taxi. Thank you Buenos Aires police!!!

18.10.11

Frank Gehry in La Rioja

You may like or hate the buildings designed by Frank Gehry, but one thing is for certain, you will always notice them. The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, The Vitra Design Museum in Germany, the Dancing House in Prague and the Hotel Marqués de Riscal in Elciego, La Rioja in Spain. The latter was commissioned by the Marques de Riscal Winery and was built on its grounds. It is surprising how such a modern structure manages to blend in with the sorrounding countryside. To stay in the hotel is quite an experience and, if you can, you have to stay in the main building. The hotel has a spa where you can indulge in wine based treatments and the price of the room includes a guided tour of the Marques de Riscal Winery and a wine tasting at the end. Ideally you will visit during the vintage when the grapes are picked.
The Hotel Marqués de Riscal  is part of the Starwood Hotels Luxury Collection.

Hotel Marqués de Riscal

Hotel Marqués de Riscal

Vine leaf

Grapes

Detail - Hotel Marqués de Risca

17.10.11

Salamanca

Salamanca in the region of Castilla-León (north-east of Madrid) is a university town. The University of Salamanca is the oldest of the existing universities in Spain. It was established in 1218 by King Alfonso IX and gives the city a very special feel. During the summer months, the university organizes Spanish language courses for foreign students and, thus, the city is transformed into a Tower of Babel.

You may even recognize parts of Salamanca even if you have never been there, since the city has been a filming location for a number of movies. Vantage Point, directed by Pete Travis and starring Dennis Quaid, Matthew Fox, William Hurt, Forest Whitaker and Sigourney Weaver; and Ridley Scott’s 1492: The Conquest of Paradise starring Gerard Depardieu and Fernando Rey were both partly filmed in the city.

Salamanca has a rich cultural heritage:
- Two cathedrals. The old and the new.
- La casa de las Conchas. Originally built as a palace and decorated with around 300 shells representing the symbol of the Order of Santiago (Saint James). Legend has it that a treasure can be found under one of them, or at the very least a gold coin, which was a custom at the time in order to attract good luck for the inhabitants of the palace.
- The main square.
- The Roman Bridge.
- The building that houses the archives of the Spanish Civil War. There is a small permanent exhibition about the war and also a replica of a Freemasonry hall.
- The statue that pays homage to the characters of the novel The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes and of His Fortunes and Adversities.
- A private Art Nouveau Museum Museo de Lis . Make sure you also visit the Cafe.
- The garden of the lovers Calisto y Melibea. From the novel attributed to Fernando de Rojas. This is where, legend has it, the procuress La Celestina arranged for the lovers to meet.
- The University. Where Fray Luis de León and Miguel de Unamuno taught.
- The devil’s cave. This is where, legend has it, the devil taught black magic. The cave is mentioned in the poem The Lay of the last Minstrel by Sir Walter Scott :
'In these far climes it was my lot
To meet the wondrous Michael Scott;
A wizard of such dreaded fame
That when, in Salamanca's cave,
Him listed his magic wand to wave,
The bells would ring in Notre Dame!

Salamanca is definitely worth a visit. There are a number of good hotels in the city. The Parador of Salamanca is a modern building and boasts great views of the skyline of the city and the Cathedrals. The only snag is that it is on the other side of the river Tormes and a 15 minute walk from the centre of town, crossing the Roman Bridge. If you don’t wish to walk, bus number 9 stops just outside the Parador and will take you close to the main square.
If you are on a driving tour, about 80 Kms from Salamanca, the village of La Alberca is worth a visit. This small village has managed to maintain much of its traditional architecture.

16.10.11

Useful sites

A couple of sites you may find useful:
SeatGuru
A wealth of information on the best seats to look out for in airplanes.
WorldTaxi Meter
Great site to know beforehand the price of taxi journeys in cities all over the world.

Back on Twitter

I now have my twitter account back on line. This is the message from Twitter:
Quote
Hello,
Twitter has automated systems that find and remove multiple automated spam accounts in bulk. Unfortunately, it looks like your account got caught up in one of these spam groups by mistake. I've restored your account; sorry for the inconvenience. Please note that it may take an hour or so for your follower and following numbers to return to normal.
Thanks,
Unquote

14.10.11

Trujillo

Today, we shall travel to the city of Trujillo in the province of Cáceres in the region of Extremadura. Although the history of Trujillo can be traced back to around 600 BC, the village begins to expand during the period that the Arabs occupied the city, between 714 and 1232 AD, and built the castle and the walls. But, Trujillo is today mostly known as the birthplace of many of the "conquistadores" that travelled to the newly discovered continent of America. The names of Pizarro and Orellana will always be associated to Peru and the Amazon river respectively. As can be expected, Pizarro is remembered throughout the city. The Parador is housed in what used to be the Convent of Santa Clara. It was founded in 1533 and continued as such until 1984. In fact there are still a number of convents in the city, where you can buy sweets and pastries baked by the nuns. The Parador, retains the sobriety of the original convent and the rooms are built from what were the original rooms of the nuns. Breakfast is served in what used to be the chapel and it makes for an amazing start for the day. More information at Paradores Nacionales . Not far from Trujillo you can also visit the natural park of Monfragüe.


13.10.11

Blocked twitter account

Twitter has blocked the twitter account of "special baggage". I am trying to find out the reason, but its taking a while. Apologies for any strange messages you may have received as a result of this action.
Spcial baggage has not done anything improper and is in contact with twitter to try and solve the issue as soon as possible. I will keep you posted. Thanks

The "Paradores" of Spain - Mazagón

Today, I begin a series of articles on the different "Paradores" I have visited. The "Paradores" are, normally, high end - a majority are assigned 4-stars - hotels. What makes them different is that they are housed in historical buildings, like medieval castles, monasteries, convents, palaces, etc., which have been restored to very high standards, maintaining a lot of the original features. The Paradores were established in 1928 and are state-owned. Today, there are around 90 paradores, scattered around Spain. Complete information at Paradores Nacionales

Prices vary, depending on the parador and the season. Its always advisable to be aware of special offers, and if you are going to be a regular visitor, become a friend of the paradores. There are also, different routes you can take, staying at different paradores along the way. One of the highlights of the paradores is the food. Each parador promotes the local cuisine and the quality and service are usually very good. Be advised that the portions tend to be large.
One snag you may encounter in some of the paradores is the fact that they are often used to celebrate company events and celebrations. If you are too near to the banqueting rooms, you may find yourselves being awaken in the middle of the night.It happened to me once and when I complained they changed us to a superior (and quiet room).

I am going to start with a parador which is not set in an historic building. It is a modern construction, but is situated above a very nice beach and close to the natural park of Doñana. It is the parador at Mazagón, in the province of Huelva in Andalusia. The parador is comfortable and its main attraction is the beach. However, be aware that whilst going down to the beach is fine, coming back up to the parador may pose a slight problem if you are not fit, as you will see from the photograph. On the other hand, you may look upon it as an opportunity to become very fit indeed, or at the very least to work up an appetite.




9.10.11

Hotel Caballo Andaluz, Gaucín, Málaga (Spain)

Besides the Hotel Hacienda La Herriza, another option if you want to stay in the actual village of Gaucín is its sister hotel, Hotel Caballo Andaluz . The hotel is situated on the slopes of a mountain and from its balcony you can admire the views of a beautiful valley and even see Gibraltar and the Atlas Mountains of Morocco on a clear day.
(Road A-405, Km. 0 - Gaucín (Málaga) - Telephone: (+34) 952151147
email: info@hotelcaballoandaluz.es )


Hotel Hacienda La Herriza, Gaucín, Málaga (Spain)

If you are thinking of visiting the typical white villages of Málaga, the boutique hotel  Hacienda La Herriza is a good place to stay. The hotel is just outside the small village of Gaucín and 30 minutes away from the beaches of the Costa del Sol in Málaga (Spain). La Herriza lies on the edge of a natural forest and is perfectly situated for exploring the white villages of Andalucia. Most of the accommodation is in spacious and charming Andalusian style cottages with bedroom, a fully fitted bathroom and a separate drawing room. A place to relax and wind down.
(Road MA9300, km. 4.7 - 29480 Gaucin (Malaga) -Telephone: +34 951068200
email: info@laherriza.com )

  

8.10.11

Restaurant La Menorah, Estepona, Málaga (Spain)

If you happen to stay in or near Estepona or just driving through, I recommend you visit La Menorah. When you arrive, you will probably be welcomed by Jose Luís, the co-owner together with the chef Paco. Jose Luis will immediately make you feel as if you have gone to a friend´s house for lunch. Although there is a menu - or so I am told, since I have never seen it - it is best to have whatever fresh fish of the day is on offer. The last time I was there, we had octopus on a bed of boiled potatoes and covered with a delicious sauce, followed by my favourite: sea bass baked in salt. For dessert, we had the house special, called the "madness of Estepona". Prices will vary depending on the price of fish in the market. In August 2011, the bill for two, including wine and coffee came to 95 euro.
(Urb. Arena Beach. A7 Road - km. 151,2 -the old N-340 Road- Estepona, Málaga.
Telephone: +34952792734. Closed Mondays)




 
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