The Wild Side of Machu Picchu

WRITTEN BY: MEGAN KOPP

Disclosure: This post may contain Affiliate Links.

Machu Picchu – architectural wonder, Inca monument, historic gem. All are fitting descriptions for this fortress carved of stone, but I’m going to detour for a moment and take you along for a walk on Machu Picchu’s wild side.

Discovering Machu Picchu’s Wild Things

Thousands of visitors flock to Peru’s Andes on a quest to tick off Machu Picchu on their bucket lists – and for good reason. Machu Picchu is a stunning example of Incan engineering prowess.

We finally made it! (Credit: Megan Kopp)

Stone temples and carefully placed sacred rocks perch on a pass between 2,750-metre high Waynapicchu and the 3,050-metre high Machupicchu mountains. The sheer majesty of the view and the architecture make everything else irrelevant…

… until a bear walks by.

Bears? In Machu Picchu?

Apparently.

I wish we’d been one of the fortunate ones to have witnessed the spectacle of the Andean bear sauntering through Plaza Principal or scaling the terraces in the Agricultural sector, but just the fact that they are here is captivating.

Lucky visitors have videoed Andean bears – also known as spectacled bear – at Machu Picchu.

A Little Llama Love

While we didn’t personally see any bears during our visit – next time! –  we did find a wild side to Machu Picchu, starting with the llamas.

Photo star of Machu Picchu! (Photo: Brad Kopp)

 

Llamas are not exactly wild. They were brought to the site as workers. Yup, they are the lawnmowers that keep the terraces cropped. We saw four and one sweet baby still wobbly on its feet. The llamas are free to wander, but why would they want to  go anywhere else when they can get free food with little competition and get to pose for the paparazzi whenever they want?

Chillin’ Cinchillas

Technically, the large, bushy-tailed rodents that scamper around the boulders – often overlooked by visitors – are called viscachas. But they are members of the chinchilla family. Their fur matches the colours of the stones for perfect camouflage.

Looking like a cross between a rabbit and squirrel, the southern viscacha is a Machu Picchu original! (Photo: Brad Kopp)

 

 

Taking Flight

Using spiders as hosts to feed their young, this wasp is a killer! (Photo: Brad Kopp)

While the spider wasp looks threatening – and indeed probably are to spiders – this curious insect is worth a closer look.

Birds abound in Machu Picchu, but finding the right opportunity to take a pic can be a bit of a challenge.

This rufous-collared sparrow serenaded us from the treetops while standing below the guardhouse. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

We don’t always photograph birds as the camera we carry is not meant for that level of photography, but the avian life at Machu Picchu demands an attempt.

Sugar buzz! Come a little closer and sit still for a moment would you! (Photo: Brad Kopp)

The Machu Picchu Historical Sanctuary spans across 32,590 hectares. It lies on the eastern slope of the Andes. Humid montane forests drop down towards the Amazon basin. Over 400 species of birds have been recorded in this prime habitat.

Temple of the Condor

Birds held high court in the world of the Inca as well. The Temple of the Condor was named for its appearance, stretched out like the wings of the condor.

The rock outcrops of the Temple of the Condor look like the wings of its namesake. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

 

Take Time to Smell the Flowers

Machu Picchu may be on the bucket list for its impressive architecture and cultural legacy, but don’t pass up the opportunity to take a moment to stop and smell the flowers – or listen to the birds or watch the insects or enjoy a chillin’ chinchilla – along the way.


Expedia.com

Towers and Forts: An Irish Treasure Hunt

WRITTEN BY: MEGAN KOPP

We often travel a route with the map in hand and randomly choose short historic side trips to investigate while on the way to our actual destination. Sometimes, it’s a wild goose chase. Other times, it’s a treasure hunt that leads to such beauties as the Ring of Kerry’s Staigue Fort and the Dingle Peninsula’s Min Aird Castle.

Staigue Fort

When is a stone defensive structure and home not a castle? When it’s a prehistoric stone fort!

Staigue Fort is one of the largest and finest stone forts in Ireland – according the interpretive panel just outside its walls! The name comes from “An Steig” – which is roughly translated as “the portion of land.” It is found on a small portion of land off the southern leg of the infamous “Ring of Kerry” on Ireland’s Iveragh Peninsula.

Staigue Fort’s impressive walls. (Photo: Megan Kopp)

The stone fort was built in the early centuries before Christianity came to Ireland – somewhere between 500 BC and AD 300. Like more “modern” castles, it was most likely built for a wealthy landowner or chieftain who had a need for security.

The wall rises up to six metres (over 19 feet) high. It is four metres (13 feet) thick and is built entirely without mortar. The wall encloses an area thirty metres (almost 100 feet) in diameter. Several near-vertical masonry joints are visible in the walls. These may indicate that the massive stone structure was built in stages rather than in one continuous act. The fort was entered through a narrow, lintel-covered passage in the wall.

The inner walls have criss-crossing staircases. (Photo: Megan Kopp)

The fort was the home of the chieftain’s family, guards and servants. It would have been full of houses, out-buildings, and possibly even tents or other temporary structures. None of the inner buildings survive today. The top of the wall was reached by a series of steps which criss-cross against the inside of the wall. An earthen bank and ditch around the fort gave further protection.

You say fort, I say prehistoric castle!

Min Aird Castle

Min Aird Castle – also commonly referred to as Minard Castle – is located in Cill Mhuire Bay on the Dingle Peninsula. It is the largest fortress on the peninsula. Cill Mhuire Bay is also known for its geology. Eighty-million-year-old fossilised sand dunes can be seen in its cliffs. It also contains one of the finest storm beaches in Ireland.

Min Aird Castle and its storm beach. (Photo: Megan Kopp)

In the Devonian period, rivers flowed south across a large desert… wait, we’re still in Ireland, right?

Crumbling Cill Mhuire sandstone walls of Min Aird Castle. (Photo: Megan Kopp)

Rivers flowed across a large desert, carrying sand and coarse sediments. The crescent-shaped sand dunes in the desert became the pale, yellow Cill Mhuire Sandstone. This same sandstone was used to build Min Aird Castle.

Blocks of sandstone have become rounded by the action of the waves and from knocking against each other. Storms have thrown them towards the back to the beach where they form a ridge called a storm beach.

A timeless view. (Photo: Megan Kopp)

The 16th century tower house that is Min Aird Castle has stood the test of time. It was attacked by Cromwell’s army in 1650 and was structurally damaged. Its crumbling remains have continued to withstand the ravages of a stormy coast for centuries.

Castles, towers, forts – Ireland’s countless historic stone structures beckon.

What are you waiting for?

Read more about our Irish adventures at:

The Stone Circles of Cork & Kerry, Ireland

Ireland’s Brú na Bóinne

Getting to Know Guinness: Going to the Source in Dublin, Ireland

Ireland’s Trim Castle

 

Affiliate Links:


Expedia.com

Hosted by:

Ireland’s Skellig Michael: A Storied Past

WRITTEN BY: MEGAN KOPP

Somewhere between the 6th and 8th centuries, a group of monks sought an isolated locale to practice their religion. They found Skellig Michael.

Skellig come from Sceillic, which means steep rock. Over the next 500 years these Christian monks would develop a precipitous monastic complex that boggles the mind. Perched on a rugged sea crag in the wild Atlantic Ocean, 12 kilometres (8 miles) off of Ireland’s Ivereagh Peninsula in County Kerry, this well-preserved, early medieval ecclesiastical site is quite unlike any other in the world.

The Monastery

The monks chose a sloping rock plateau around 200 metres (650 feet) above the sea to build the monastery. Using a series of dry-stacked retaining walls, they built terraces to level the ground. The retaining walls not only levelled the cliffs, they provided shelter from the prevailing winds. This created a somewhat milder microclimate and allowed the monks to grow some of their food on garden terraces. As there is no fresh water on Skellig Michael, the monks built water cisterns to collect water.

Retaining walls and terraces (Photo: Megan Kopp)

The focus of the inner enclosure was the boat-shaped Large Oratory. This place of prayer was the most important building. It holds a dominant spot in the small compound. A Small Oratory is located on a separate terrace.

Entrance to the Large Oratory (Photo: Megan Kopp)

At the back to the Large Oratory is the Monks’ Graveyard. The series of weathered crosses set into the west side of the graveyard are in their original locations. Over a hundred stone crosses of varying sizes have been recorded on the island.

All of the dry-stacked buildings on Skellig Michael were corbelled. Corbelling is a technique where individual stones are laid flat, with each successive stone placed so that it overhangs on the inner face. This creates a beehive-shaped stone hut.

Beehive-shaped shelters (Photo: Megan Kopp)

There are six dwellings in the monastery. Each includes raised sections for sleeping areas and small cupboards built into the walls. Austere is a kind description of these dark and cold shelters.

In the 13th century the monks moved off Skellig Michael, leaving behind a unique legacy that became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.

If You Go:

From the boat dock, today’s visitors head up the early 19th century lighthouse road before ascending the south steps up to Christ’s Saddle and on to the monastery. It’s important to note that a visit to the monastery not only demands a sometimes hair-raising boat ride, it also involves a climb up 618 steps rising over 180 metres (600 feet) above sea level – with some risk of exposure.

Boat trips to Skellig Michael run from May 12th to October 2nd in 2017 (weather permitting). Although access to the monastery itself is free, the 11 ½ kilometre (7 mile) boat trip from Portmagee will cost in the neighbourhood of 70-75 Euros per person. Trips depart from the Portmagee marina around 9:15 am, returning after 2 pm. Most landing tours fill months ahead of time, book in advance.

Read more about our Irish adventures at:

The Stone Circles of Cork & Kerry, Ireland

Ireland’s Brú na Bóinne

Getting to Know Guinness: Going to the Source in Dublin, Ireland

Ireland’s Trim Castle

Affiliate Links:
Expedia.com


Hosted by:

Ireland’s Trim Castle

WRITTEN BY: MEGAN KOPP

Trim – the word sounds precise, with little excess. Trim Castle – on the River Boyne – is just the opposite. It is the largest Normandy castle in Ireland.

Historic stone structures always draw my attention and Trim was no exception. We had to stop and take a look.

Arriving too late in the day to take advantage of a guided tour and entrance to the keep, we strolled the grounds as the clouds lifted and the sun peeked out.

Surveying the grounds. (Photo: Megan Kopp)

The castle was started by Hugh de Lacy in 1173. It was completed in the 13th century. The curtain wall encloses an area of over 1.5 hectares (about the size of one and a half rugby fields).

Interpretive panels through the grounds explain major features of this stone landmark, but we chose to wander at will, trying to get a sense of what life must have been like in Hugh de Lacy’s world.

In 1172, when Hugh de Lacy was granted the Liberty of Meath, he occupied this site bounded by the river Boyne to the north and marshy grounds to the south. The hill on which the castle stands was easily defended.

The Keep at Trim Castle. (Photo: Megan Kopp)

Three years after choosing the location, de Lacy’s original wooden fortification had been replaced with the Keep. It housed the Lord’s private and administrative apartments. Gazing at its pock-marked façade, it’s remarkably easy to visualize the lords and ladies inside, sitting by wood-burning fires discussing the state of affairs.

The Keep was later surrounded by curtain walls with a simple gate to the north and a bridge across the moat.

Trim Castle’s entrance gate (Photo: Megan Kopp)

Trim Gate was built around 1180. It faces northwest, with its half-round gate-arch set high above the moat. A forward tower or pier would have received a bridge over the moat. The gatehouse was rebuilt early in the 13th century.

Defensive viewpoint on the curtain wall (Photo: Megan Kopp)

The south curtain wall with its D-shaped towers was completed by 1200, when new siege tactics forced a change in the design of castles. Step in close and look through the slotted archery windows.

As the town and roads developed, the barbican gate provided a new entrance from the south. It’s precise design suits Trim.

Though the castle buildings were often adapted to suit changing military and domestic needs, much of the fabric of Trim Castle has remained unchanged since the height of Anglo-Norman power in Ireland.

View from Trim Castle across the river Boyne towards the Augustinian Abbey of St. Mary and its belfry tower, the Yellow Steeple (Photo: Megan Kopp)

P.S. If the castle looks vaguely familiar and it’s been niggling at the back of your mind, but you can’t quite place it, I’ll let you off the hook.

Trim Castle was dubbed York Castle for the 1996 movie Braveheart, starring Mel Gibson.

Read more about our Irish adventures at:

The Stone Circles of Cork & Kerry, Ireland

Ireland’s Brú na Bóinne

Getting to Know Guinness: Going to the Source in Dublin, Ireland

 

Affiliate Links:

Falling in Love With Guanajuato, Mexico

WRITTEN BY: MEGAN KOPP

It was love at first sight as the taxi emerged from the maze of underground tunnels which spilled out onto the streets of Guanajuato, Mexico.

In the twilight glow, the colours softened to warm buttery yellows, burnt oranges and tranquil blues. This is what we came to see.

A Gilded Beauty

UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988, Guanajuato has an outstanding collection of Baroque and neoclassical buildings that date back to the 17th century. Founded in the early 16th century, Guanajuato became the world leader in silver production in the 18th century.

At first light the next morning we started walking, up and down the impossibly narrow and infinitely charming maze of streets, stopping at every turn for yet another photograph. Eventually, we ended up in the heart of the city, staring in awe at the Templo de San Diego.

Basilica of Our Lady of Guanajuato - front view. (Photo: B. Kopp)
Templo de San Diego – front view. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

Templo de San Diego

Built between 1671 and 1696, this imposing Baroque monument is shaped like a Latin cross. A large sacristry was added on the hill side of the sprawling building. The right hand bell tower, added in the 18th century, is in the Mexican Churrigueresque style.

For a bird’s eye view of the church and an overview of the city, we take the footpath that begins near the funicular at the back of the church. Even in bright midday sun, the scene is a kaleidoscope of colours and shapes. What’s not to love about this colourful colonial city?

Basilica of Our Lady of Guanajuato - top view. (Photo: B. Kopp)
Templo de San Diego – top view. (Photo: B. Kopp)

If You Go:

We stayed at El Meson de los Poetas which, like most buildings in town, is built on a narrow lot that snakes up the hillside. We recommend the Octavio Paz suite for the views, however if you don’t like stairs, avoid rooms numbered in the 400s!

The bus ride from Guadalajara to Guanajuato takes about 4 hours.

For further information about Guanajuato, visit the Mexican Tourist Board website.

Affiliate links:
Expedia.com

First Time Visit to Guadalajara, Mexico

WRITTEN BY: MEGAN KOPP

Disclosure: This post contains Affiliate Links.

“Are you sure it’s safe?”

That’s the first question people asked us when we said we were heading through Guadalajara. We were travelling by bus from Mexico’s Pacific Coast.

There are no guarantees of safety on any trip. While that may be true, we felt completely comfortable stepping out on foot on our arrival late afternoon to explore. Guadalajara is Mexico’s second largest city. However, its historical center is easily explored on foot.

Time for a Historical Walkabout

From our hotel room, we headed north for one block on Avenida Ramón Colon. Turning west on Calle Francisco I. Madero for one block and north for three blocks on Avenida 16 de Septiembre, we arrived at Plaza de Armas.

This welcoming plaza was remodelled in 1910 for Mexican Independence centennial celebrations. It frames a charming wrought-iron bandstand that was brought in from Paris.

An Orozco mural in the Palacio de Gobierno, showing Miguel Hidalgo signing for end of slavery and Benito Juarez signing for Mexico’s independence. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

The Palacio de Gobierno del Estado de Jalisco – government palace – lies on the eastern edge of the plaza. It is an impressive two-storey, Baroque-style structure. The building was completed in 1790. Peek inside for a glimpse of the murals painted by José Clemente Orozco.

On the northern edge of Plaza de Armas lies the imposing Catedral de Guadalajara. Construction of this massive cathedral was ordered by Philip of Spain. Building began in 1568.

Catedral de Guadalajara starting to glow as evening approaches. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

The cathedral wasn’t officially finished until 1618 – and even then construction was ongoing. The original towers were square. Damaged by an earthquake in 1818, they were taken down and replaced with the current Neo-Gothic towers in 1848. The brilliant yellow tower tiles come from Sayula, a small town south of Guadalajara.

Perfect Plazas and More!

Rotonda de los Jaliscienses Ilustres with Irene (Photo: Brad Kopp)

Plaza de la Rotonda lies to the north of the cathedral. This shaded green space is home to a monument built in 1951 to honour a select group of Jalisco artists, scientists, politicians and others notable figures. Rotonda de los Jaliscienses Ilustres was previously known as the Rotonda de Hombres Illustres de Jalisco (Rotunda of Illustrious Men of Jalisco). Because teacher and humanist Irene Obledo Garcia joined the group in 2000, the name changed.

Heading east we strolled through Plaza de la Liberación – Liberation Square – towards Teatro Degollado, seated at the far east end of the plaza. Construction began in 1856 on this Neoclassical theatre. The portico – or roofed structure supported by columns – includes a marble decorative wall surface over the entrance. The stone depicts Apollo and the nine muses.

The Teatro Degollado and its impressive tympanum (decorative marble surface) above the entrance. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

We walked behind the theatre along the Paseo Degollado. The tiny Plaza Fundadores includes a sculpture of Dona Beatriz Hernández de Sánchez Olea. She is one of the city’s heroines.  Dona Beatriz helped bring about the foundation of Guadalajara City in 1532.

Statue of Beatriz Hernández in Plaza Fundadores. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

Strolling down the paseo, we ended up at the art-strewn Plaza Tapatio and the Cabañas Cultural Institute.

The Cabañas Cultural Institute

Cabañas Cultural Institute (Photo: Brad Kopp)

This Neoclassical building was originally built as a charitable institute to house orphans, the elderly, the poor, and the sick. The building was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997 and is now a museum and cultural center.

From here, we worked our way down the stair off the plaza to the market – another story of its own!

It may have been our first time visiting Guadalajara while on our way to Guanajuato – but it won’t be our last.

If You Go:

Hotel Morales was not only well-located for strolling historic sites, it was elegant and had efficient, friendly staff.


Expedia.com

New York City: A Literary Hit

WRITTEN BY: MEGAN KOPP

Loving the New York City Public Library

Officially known as the Stephen A. Schwarzman building, the main branch of the New York City Public Library is a Beaux-Arts beauty. In 1897, the city provided the site – an old reservoir – and agreed to finance construction. Dr. John Shaw Billings – the library’s first director – sketched out a plan for the new building on a postcard.

It took 500 workers two years to demolish the Croton Reservoir and nine years to build the library.

Open in 1911, it quickly became known as the People’s Place.

I call it my kind of place.

Grandeur from the first step!
Grandeur from the first step! (Photo: Megan Kopp)

Inner Charms

Stepping away from the hustle of Fifth Avenue, the main entrance leads into Astor Hall with a jaw- dropping, 37-foot (11.3-metre) vaulted ceiling and white Vermont marble covering every available surface.

I gawk as only a literary tourist can.

The Map Division, on a wing of the first floor, contains more than 500,000 maps, atlases and cartography books – some dating back as far as the late 16th century.

I could stop right here and spent the rest of my time in the city, but the Rose Reading Room is calling.

Rose Reading Room - then...
Rose Reading Room – then…
IMG_4974
… and now. (Photo: Megan Kopp)

The Rose Room

If I lived in the city, the Rose Reading Room would be my office and Norman Mailer – a regular patron – would be my muse.

The Rose Reading Room is two city blocks long, providing seating for over 600 patrons at custom carved tables.

The room sits on top of seven stories of book stacks.

The collection includes such curiousities as a lock of Wild Bill Hickok’s hair, Charles Dicken’s letter-opener made out of his beloved cat Bob’s paw and poet E.E. Cummings death mask.

Cool marble walls speak volumes in New York City's Central Library (Photo Credit: M.Kopp)
Cool marble walls speak volumes in New York City’s Central Library (Photo: Megan Kopp)

Visit the People’s Place

Founded in 1895, NYPL is the nation’s largest public library system. The People’s Place is its crown jewel. If you’d like to visit this gem, it is located on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street; more information is available online.

Did You Know? 

  • There are 88 miles (over 141 kilometres) of bookshelves beneath the Rose Main Reading Room alone.
  • The library collection includes more than 15 million items – from the first Gutenburg Bible to cross the Atlantic to the original Winnie-the-Pooh stuffed animals to Columbus’s letter announcing the discovery of the New World and oh, so much more!
  • Literary lions Patience and Fortitude – named by NYC Mayor Fiorello La Guardia – flank the Fifth Avenue entrance.
  • During WWII, military intelligence used the Map Division to research battle plans.

“The world is a book,
and those who do not travel
read only a page.”
– St. Augustine

Affiliate Links: