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A taste of Vienna (from our kitchen)

I studied Spanish in middle school, high school, and college, which came in handy for the time we were in South America.  But until recently, the only German I knew came from the basic phrases I had learned from my parents or general osmosis (“gute nacht”, “danke schön”,…) or phrases from things I’ve sung in choir (“Freund, ich bitte hüte dich, Scorpionen schleichen sich unter jeden Stein”).  Recently, I started learning German more formally with Rosetta Stone, a computer program that tries to teach language in an immersion style.  Of course, being here in Vienna has provided its own opportunities for language immersion.  All of that was a long-winded way of getting me to the word of the day: “Hundertjahrflut”, meaning “hundred year flood”.  Yes, Austria is having its second hundred year flood in eleven years, and it happens to coincide with us being here.  So we have been a bit stir crazy the last few days. (The flooding isn’t causing any problems in Vienna at this point, just in other places.)

So, in honor of terrible weather driving us inside, here is a visual tour of some of the great things we’ve been cooking.  Vienna is a city with great food, and over the past few weeks, we’ve certainly been contributing in our own small way.

Be sure to check out more great stuff on Bowen’s blog, both from our time here and from before.

A delicious salad with yogurt dressing

A delicious salad with yogurt dressing

Risotto with caramelized onions, mushrooms, and bacon

Risotto with caramelized onions, mushrooms, and bacon

Pork chops with sauteed onions and roasted scallions

Pork chops with sauteed onions and roasted scallions

Polenta with chicken and yogurt sauce

Polenta with chicken and yogurt sauce

Polenta with sauteed veggies and a poached egg

Polenta with sauteed veggies and a poached egg

Caramelized onion, potato, thyme, and gruyere pizza

Caramelized onion, potato, thyme, and gruyere pizza

Pizza Margherita

Pizza Margherita

Lentils

Lentils

Lentils with feta and tomatoes

Lentils with feta, fennel, and tomatoes

Chicken, avocado and radish salad with creamy dressing

Chicken, avocado and radish salad with creamy dressing

Beans with Chicken

Beans with chicken and fresh bread

The Czech Republic

The first part of the European leg of our year was in the Czech Republic.  The main portion of this trip is a five-week stay in Vienna, but we wanted to add on a bit of other travel before and after, and Prague seemed like a great place to start.  Not only is it a great travel destination and much cheaper than Western Europe, some of Bowen’s ancestors came from the Czech Republic, so it was an opportunity to visit “her people”.

We arrived in Prague after a grueling 20 hours of travel from Portland via Dallas and London, and caught a bus to a subway to a bus, which was quite easy and cost us less than $2 per person.  We had found a hotel about 3 miles south of the center in a lovely little residential neighborhood.  We got settled in our hotel, rested a bit and then took the tram into the center to wander a bit.

We got off at the Charles Bridge (Karluv Most), walked out along the bridge a bit to get the lay of the land, and wandered through the old town, into the new town, soaking up the sights and architecture.  We decided to have dinner back in our neighborhood, but stopped into a pub for our first Czech beers.

The Vltava River, with the Charles Bridge and Prague Castle

The Vltava River, with the Charles Bridge and Prague Castle

A few words about Czech beer.  Delicious.  Cheap.  Light yet flavorful.  In a word, awesome.  In a year of lots of beer that was big on refreshment, but not on taste, Czech beer was a wonderful return to quality.  And very different than high quality American beers, which all seem to be about out-hopping the next beer.  (We went to a bar recently that had a full page of beers on tap and about three quarters were either IPA, Double IPA or Triple IPA, and the balance were mostly Imperial Stouts or Belgians, leaving approximately two that weren’t intended as flavor bombs.)  These beers were all about being delicious and reasonable and balanced and drinkable.  I love fizzy refreshing beer, and I love hoppy, flavor-intense beer, but the beer we drank in the Czech Republic was a welcome middle ground.

Our first Czech beer.

Our first Czech beer…

...auspiciously overseen by Emperor Charles V.

…auspiciously overseen by Emperor Charles V.

Our first full day in Prague we headed after breakfast to the Little Quarter (Mala Strana) and the Castle Quarter, wandering up the hill past the beautiful old buildings and an old walled vineyard to great views of the city.  We visited St. Vitus cathedral and wandered a bit.  Then we walked back down again and through the Wallenstein Garden.  We stopped for a lunch of wine, cheese, sausage and bread at a little festival we found on Kampa Island.  We wandered the island a bit, and visited the Infant Jesus of Prague in the Carmelite Church, a major focus of pilgrims and recipient of fancy clothes from all over the world.  Then we walked through the town back to the tram and headed back to our hotel.

Stained glass by Alphonse Mucha in St. Vitus Cathedral

Stained glass by Alphonse Mucha in St. Vitus Cathedral

Spires in Prague Castle from the Wallenstein Gardens

Spires in Prague Castle from the Wallenstein Gardens

A street fair on Kampa Island

A street fair on Kampa Island

Creepy public baby art by David Cerny, the guy who did the creepy baby public art on the huge telecommunications tower in Prage

Creepy public baby art by David Cerny, the guy who did the creepy baby public art on the huge telecommunications tower in Prague.

On our second full day we spent our time in the Old and New Towns.  We started by wandering around Wenceslas Square (Vaclav Namesti), enjoying the beautiful architecture and pondering the historical events that occurred there over the past decades.  Then we headed to the Mucha Museum for some really incredible art.  After lunch we wandered through to the gorgeous Municipal Hall, past the Powder Tower and over to Old Town Square, where we watched the Astronomical Clock chime.  We were so taken by the art at the Mucha Museum and the discussion of the Slav Epic, that we hopped a tram out to the National Gallery to see the full Slav Epic in person.  The Slav Epic is a series of 20 gigantic canvases (the smallest are about 13’x16’ and the largest are about 26’x20’) showing key moments in Slavic history.  Seeing it was one of the best art experiences I have ever had, although I really wish I had a pamphlet or something to help explain each of the canvases.  Then we stopped briefly through the Jewish Quarter and hopped on a nail-biting tram ride as our 90-minute transit tickets expired (we didn’t get caught).

Wenceslas Square

Wenceslas Square

Much less creepy public art by David Cerny, featuring King Wenceslas riding an upside-down horse.

Much less creepy public art by David Cerny, featuring King Wenceslas riding an upside-down horse.

The beautiful entrance to the Municipal Hall

The beautiful entrance to the Municipal Hall

The Powder Tower

The Powder Tower

Prague Astronomical Clock

Prague Astronomical Clock

The next day we headed out to Kutna Hora ,about an hour outside of Prague.  The main attraction is the Bone Church (the Sedlec Ossuary).  In the 13th century the abbot of the local monastery was sent on a trip to the Holy Land and brought back some soil, which he scattered around the cemetery.  Thereafter, people from all over Central Europe wanted to be buried in the cemetery.  Then the Plague and various wars came through, providing many more skeletons for the cemetery.  A few hundred years later, a church was built on the site, and they built an ossuary underneath to house the exhumed bones.  For whatever reason, they decided to decorate the ossuary with the bones, rather than simply stack them all together.  There were bone pyramids, a bone chandelier, a coat of arms of the local noble family made of bone, and even a signature by the architect made in bone.

The bone chandelier

The bone chandelier

A bone coat of arms

A bone coat of arms.  Yes those are all actual human bones.

After the church, we visited the nearby cathedral and then walked into the center of town, getting incredibly lost in our extreme hunger.  We eventually found our way in, got lunch and then visited the beautiful Church of St. Barbara, dedicated to the patron saint of miners, and paid for by the vast wealth coming out of Kutna Hora’s silver mine, the largest in Central Europe.

Probably the best word fro ice cream.  Also a great new word to indicate getting ice cream all over one's face and similar situations of personal challenge.

Probably the best word fro ice cream. Also a great new word to indicate getting ice cream all over one’s face and similar situations of personal challenge.

Church of St. Barbara with Charles Bridge-style statues

Church of St. Barbara with Charles Bridge-style statues

The next day we headed to Cesky Krumlov (prounounced chesky kroom-loff), a lovely little medieval town set in a crook in the Vltava River a few hours south of Prague.  It was raining when we arrived, but the rain eventually cleared and we walked through the town a bit, enjoying the narrow, winding stone streets and views of the beautiful castle.

Cesky Krumlov town square

Cesky Krumlov town square

A bit of Czech springtime

A bit of Czech springtime

A view of the town with the castle

A view of the town with the castle

We had only one full day in Cesky Krumlov, and it ended up being beautiful.  We wandered back to the castle in the morning to book a tour, and stopped into a few shops before going on a tour of the local Eggenberg brewery.  The tour finished with half liters of Eggenberg beer with our tour mates.  After the tour we ate lunch at the Tavern of the Two Marys, which focused on historically typical Bohemian food like barley, millet, buckwheat and herbs.  Then we headed to the castle gardens where we walked for a while, and then napped under a big oak tree with bright green new leaves.  Our dinner reservation at Krcma v Satlaske (Satlavske Tavern) wasn’t until 8, we think because the guy taking our reservation was just a jerk, so we sat by the river enjoying the evening.  When we arrived at the restaurant, they had no record of our reservation, but lots of empty tables, so we settled in for a delicious medieval meal of half a roast chicken and a roast pork knee.

Bears in the castle moat

Bears in the castle moat

Brewing equipment at Eggenberg Brewery

Brewing equipment at Eggenberg Brewery

A view along the river

A view along the river

A view of the town from the castle

A view of the town from the castle

The castle gardens

The castle gardens

Getting my feet wet in the Vltava

Getting my feet wet in the Vltava

Now that is a meal.

Now that is a meal.

The next morning we toured the castle.  The only way to see the interior of the castle is on a tour and the tour in Czech was a lot cheaper, so we took that one and got an English information sheet.  The castle was very cool, with lovely old rooms and paintings, a large gilded chariot that the family used while in Rome, and a ballroom painted with commedia dell’arte characters.  (Unfortunately, no cameras allowed.)  Then we headed back to our hostel and caught our shuttle through the Bohemian and Austrian countryside to Vienna.

It’s good to be back …

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Been waiting for this for two months. Worth the wait, but still …

 

Colombia

We’ve been in Bali for just over a week now, and I figured it’s time to finish up our time in South America.

Our last section of the trip was Colombia.  We arrived on the ourskirts of Popayán, Colombia a bit shaken after a somewhat harrowing twentyish hours on a bus from Quito.  Tip to anyone who is thinking about running a bus company: do not under any circumstances force people to watch Human Trafficking, a Lifetime miniseries from a few years back.  We caught a bus into the center and soaked up the bustling vibrant feel of the town.  We spent the next day wandering and sampling a few of the local delights of this UNESCO City of Gastronomy, including empanadas with peanut sauce, tamales, and candied coconut (you can read more about all the food on Bowen’s blog).  I also had the unique experience in my life of paying for plane tickets in cash at window on the street.  In the evening we headed up to El Morro for a view of the city.

The Popayán Cathedral

The Popayán Cathedral

A view of the city from El Morro

A view of the city from El Morro

The main plaza in the early morning

The main plaza in the early morning

The next morning we headed to the bus station and caught a series of buses to the little town of Salento, up in the hills of the Eje Cafetero, the coffee-producing region.  We spent the first evening enjoying the small-town feel and the beautiful views, and eating fried trout with patacón, a platter sized cracker made out of a plantain hammered flat and fried.  Salento was really the only small town we visited in South America, and I had forgotten how much more I like traveling to small towns.  It has also been a tourist destination for Colombians for many years, so has good tourism infrastructure, without the grossness that large volumes of American tourists produces.

We got up early the next morning to catch a “Willy” jeep to the Valle de Cocora.  We hiked up the valley and into the cloud forrest, where we stopped for coffee, hot chocolate with cheese, and the chance to see lots of hummingbirds at Acaime.  Then over to the other side of the valley to hike down through the wax palms.  Wax palms are incredibly tall, thin trees that grow in only a few locations in Colombia.  Seeing them did strange things to our visual perceptions because their proportions seemed all wrong.  It seeming like something out of a video game, and I kept expecting them to start flapping their fronds and fly away.  After our hike in the valley we set off on a much-longer-than-expected hike from the town to a coffee plantation.  We saw the plants, their production process, tasted some truly fantastic coffee, and then trudged back cursing the rubber boots we were wearing.  In the evening we ate some incredible local food at a cheap restaurant, including chicken soup with pieces of banana in it.

Willys in Salento

Willys in Salento

We had about 8 bridges like this to cross

We had about 8 bridges like this to cross

One of the many varieties of hummingbirds we saw at Acaime

One of the many varieties of hummingbirds we saw at Acaime

Wax palms

Wax palms

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Picking coffee at Finca Don Elias

Picking coffee at Finca Don Elias

Coffee drying

Coffee drying

Flowers growing along the road

Flowers growing along the road

The next day was largely spent getting to Medellín so we could fly out the following day.  We had heard great things about Medellín, but I think we just stayed in the wrong area of town.  The area where we were, near the center, was bustling with lots of locals out and about in the evening, but the center on the next morning felt a bit sketchy.  The Museo de Antióquia, on the other hand, was fantastic.  It had a large selection of works by Fernando Botero, who grew up in Medellín, and other local art that was top notch.  In the afternoon we caught a shuttle to the airport, over a mountain and into the next valley, and caught a flight out on Viva Colombia, the new Colombian discount airline, to Cartagena.

Fernando Botero does Tommy Trojan

Fernando Botero does Tommy Trojan

We arrived in Cartagena in the dark and were greeted by the humid warmth of the Caribbean.  We caught a cab to our hostel, Casa Viena, and decided that everyone in the city of Vienna would be horrified at the association.  The room wasn’t all that bad, and had a balcony, but the only bathrooms were down the hall, downstairs, through the lobby, and to down a hall to the back of the building, and there were only two of them for about twenty beds.  So we set off to find someplace else to spend our other nights in town.  The next day we spent the morning wandering the streets of the old town.  Cartagena was the main Caribbean port for the Spanish for a long time, and the location where they would bring all the gold they plundered from the natives.  Consequently, the English under Sir Francis Drake would try to steal that gold, so the Spanish built protective city walls all around.  The streets are lined with old colonial buildings with balconies and bougainvillea.  In the afternoon we walked down the spit to spend some time on a beach in Boca Grande.

A street in Cartagena

A street in Cartagena

Bougainvillea abounds

Bougainvillea abounds

The next morning we caught a bus back into Boca Grande, and then a boat over to Punta Arena beach on Isla Tierra Bomba.  We spent the day reading relaxing and being watched over by a local who was trying to coordinate everything for us.  We had a really great fried fish, that was also the single most expensive dish we had eaten since Buenoes Aires, but when you are on a island with only one restaurant, there aren’t a lot of options.

Punta Arena

Punta Arena

The view back to Boca Grande

The view back to Boca Grande

Our last day in Cartagena we again wandered the streets.  In the afternoon we visited the Museo de Oro, which was more interesting to me because of the fantastic drainage systems the Zenú people had developed to deal with flooding in the area.  After the museum, I wanted to drink a tropical cocktail up on the city walls, and it just so happened that there was a bar up on the city wall.  So we sat and watched the sun sink into the clouds on the horizon, and just happened to run into a few people I knew from Eugene.  The only people we had encountered in two months, and we see them on our last night!  Then we had a lovely last dinner at El Bistro, and headed home.

Sunset from the city walls

Sunset from the city walls

Then it was a long day of travel.  We left our hotel Thursday morning at around 10:30, had a long layover in Bogotá.  Luckily, the Bogotá airport is very nice and has free wifi, but 10 hours is a pretty long time, especially when the United desk doesn’t open until the evening and one has to stay out in the public area.  Then it was an overnight flight to Houston, a couple hours there, and landing in Los Angeles, about 27 hours after we left our hotel in Cartagena.

Machu Picchu and Pisac

Yeah, I know this is really late.  The Venn diagram showing internet and our computer did not have a lot of overlap while we were in Ecuador.  I actually wrote this post on January 4.

After our harrowing night in the Santiago airport, we enjoyed a bit of luxury on our business class flights, the only ones we could get, up to Cusco.  The greatest pleasure came when we were served 18 year old Flor de Caña on our second flight, only the second time I’ve ever had the very fancy version of my favorite rum.

We spent the rest of the day and the next mostly trying to take it easy and not get soroche, altitude sickness, and get ready for our trip to Machu Picchu.  And watching cute kittens gambol about on the rooftop outside our window overlooking the city.

Kittyland Love Center, Cusco Branch

Kittyland Love Center, Cusco Branch

"Foto, señorita"

“Foto, señorita”

The thing about Machu Picchu is it’s quite complicated.  You can only get there by train (or taking a bus to the hydroelectric dam down river and walking two hours along the train tracks); you have to get tickets ahead of time, which you can reserve online but must pay for in person, and there is a limit per day;  you are technically only allowed 5 kilos of luggage on most of the trains.  This last item sent us for a bit of a loop, but when we showed up at the Porroy train station with just day packs, it was clear this was in the “oh, we didn’t really mean that” category of regulations (my second least favorite kind after ones that cause major inconvenience and have no benefits).

The train ride on the Vistadome was quite lovely.  It covers just under 100 km in about 3.5 hours, so it is certainly a leisurely ride.  The first part passes through towns, and villages, and lots of fields and pastures with potatoes, corn, fava beans and farmers.  The second part follows the Urubamba river, also known as the Vilcanote, more closely as it carves its way from the highlands down into the upper reaches of the Amazon jungle.  We arrived, to my excitement, to a representative from our hostel with my name on a card, and, to my dismay, to a card for another Brett.  The first time in my life I show up to a station to be greeted with a sign, and some other Brett is stealing my thunder!

Farmland in the Sacred Valley

Farmland in the Sacred Valley

Aguas Calientes, the town from which one can reach Machu Picchu exists purely to serve tourists coming to the ruins.  I didn’t find it abhorent, as many do, but there’s nothing particularly desirable about it except for the incredible power of the Urubamba roaring through the town.  It is one of the more intense natural phenomena I’ve seen, inspiring a certain amount of awe mixed with a healthy fear.  That afternoon we took a walk along the river to check out our more major hike for the next day.

The Urubamba flowing through Aguas Calientes

The Urubamba flowing through Aguas Calientes

We awoke the next morning at 4:15, got a bit of breakfast and were out the doors of our hostel right around 5 for the hike from the town up to the ruins.  As we hiked (or more precisely, climbed the stairs) up the mountainside from the river to the ruins day was breaking over the tops of the incredibly steep peaks all around us.

The climb up from the river

The climb up from the river

Day breaking over the mountains

Day breaking over the mountains

We arrived with about an hour and a half before meeting with our tour, so we took some time to wander a bit and take in the beautiful scenery.  If the Incas had built a shack at the site of Machu Picchu it would not be nearly so worthwhile to visit, but it would nonetheless be impressive.  The fact that they built a beautiful small city up there is incredible.

A first view of the citadel

A first view of the citadel

Our tour guide, Hamilton, gave us a great overview of Inca civilization and took us through all the main areas, showing us how the stone walls were constructed, and all of the astonomical design elements that were used to track the seasons.  We happened to be there on the summer solstice, but unfortunately, most of the buildings are designed for sunrise, which happens before the site is even open.

A classic view of Machu Picchu

A classic view of Machu Picchu

The temple of the sun

The temple of the sun

A stone in the quarry

A stone in the quarry

The hitchingpost of the sun

The hitchingpost of the sun

Machu Picchu with Wayna Picchu in the background

Machu Picchu with Wayna Picchu in the background

We had hoped to climb Wayna Picchu, that incredibly steep mountain in the background of all the pictures, but in the time since our book was written, Wayna Piccho became part of the online reservation system and by the time we realized this, all the spots were taken.  So we had chosen to climb Machu Picchu mountain, taller but not as strenuous, instead.  The climb was brutal.  Coming on top of our climb up from the town, we arrived at the top of the mountain totally exhausted.  And completely enrobed in dense fog.  We couldn’t see a thing. While this was definitely a bummer, there was something magical about being up there cut off from the world.  And it probably made the climb down a bit less scary not to have to see how far we would fall if we slipped.

Our view from the top of Machu Picchu Mountain

Our view from the top of Machu Picchu Mountain

When we made it back down to the ruins it had begun to rain a bit.  We spent another little while sitting under cover gazing out over the nearly deserted ruins, and then opted for the bus back to town.

Machu Picchu on a rainy afternoon

Machu Picchu on a rainy afternoon

We had much of the next day in Aguas Calientes before our train back.  We spent the first part of the day on a hike to Mandor.  This place came recommended by the guy at our hostel, but was neither in our guidebook, nor the full guidebook to Peru we found at the hostel.  It is a garden area with a path that leads in the primary jungle to views of two waterfalls.  One of the things I didn’t understand about Aguas Calientes before arriving is that it is in the jungle.  Not the deep, sweltering jungle, but the start of it.  This was a great way to get a taste of the rainforrest without taking a whole separate excursion.

To get to Mandor, we walked along the road towards the ruins, but just before the bridge took a right at a fork in the road, which took us up to the train tracks.  We hiked along the train tracks for about two and a quarter kilometers.  Just past a turn-around for the trains is the site for Mandor.  In addition to the gardens (entrance for 10 soles), there is a hostel with beds for 15 soles per night and a little restaurant where you can eat if you give them an hour’s notice.  Our timing wasn’t good for eating lunch there, but if we go back to Machu Picchu, we’d love to stay there.  (You can catch the train to Mandor, we were told, if you get a ticket toward the hydroelectic dam and just ask to be let off at Mandor,  but you have to walk back to town).  We both really enjoyed our hike there, in the gardens and back, and we saw a cuy gigante (giant guinea pig), some neat birds and butterflies, and some really interesting snails.  By the time we got back to Aguas Calientes we were soaked and spent the rest of the afternoon between two cafes trying to warm up.  Then we took a tired train ride back to Cusco.

A waterfall in the Jardines de Mandor

A waterfall in the Jardines de Mandor

A view to the back of Wayna Picchu

A view to the back of Wayna Picchu

La cascada de Mandor

La cascada de Mandor

The next day we visited Pisac, one of the nearby towns in the Sacred Valley, for their traditional Sunday market.  We caught the one hour bus for 2.5 soles (a dollar) that took us over the hills and then along a steep canyon side down into the Sacred Valley.  We spent a few hours wandering around the town and the market and eating lunch, including a visit to an outdoor bakery that had a little “guinea pig palace”.  We bought a couple of woven items and generally enjoyed seeing all that was on offer, and then caught the bus back to Cusco.

The market in Pisac

The market in Pisac

Guinea pigs in the guinea pig palace

Guinea pigs in the guinea pig palace

Cute animals abound

Cute animals abound in touristy areas