Michelin Stars

Things I LoveTo-Do ListU.S. TravelWining/Dining

Big Trip/Big Apple/BIG Birthday

birthday 16

I’m guessing that you’ve figured out the what and the where.  As for what constitutes as a BIG birthday, 65 is definitely one.  If you follow this blog, you know we went to Greece (click for previous posts) for the hubby’s recent milestone birthday.  As for mine, the destination was a no-brainer especially since I love cold weather, great restaurants and shopping, with some theater thrown in because it’s part of what one does in NYC.

We flew American to NY and were really impressed with their new 321T plane which is used for transcontinental routes.  Wow — great plane, modern features, tons of leg room in the exit row, outlets and individual screens at each seat.  We got upgraded for our return (15K miles and $70 each); it was fabulous!

Bottom left is exit row en route to NY; other pix are the new business class seats.

It was a “no holds barred” kind of trip (within reason, of course) because a 65th birthday happens just once.  And when one is fortunate enough to have so much, it’s time to both partake and reflect.  The latter comes in a bit.

Loews Regency Hotel on Park and 61st got the where-to-stay nod after much debate (with myself and the internet).  To me this is a very central location for our plans; we had a terrific previous stay; and, the rate didn’t necessitate a second mortgage.  I chose three shows, all purchased in advance:  The Band’s Visit, My Fair Lady and Network (Bryan Cranston!).  Might I add that none of the NY tickets (all Orchestra seats) cost as much as what we paid for Dear Evan Hansen in Los Angeles.  Go figure that one out.

Hotel greetings; Network curtain call; The Band’s Visit; Still lit up in NYC

There’s a few places and restaurants where I’ve always wanted to go but never have on innumerable trips to NYC.  One is Peter Luger Steakhouse.  So many people have so many opinions about the “best steak” place to go, but one doesn’t stay in business for 130+ years with lousy food.  This was on my to-do list so that we high-tailed it to Brooklyn straight away after a fabulous performance of My Fair Lady.  Norbert Leo Butz as Alfred P. Doolittle is worth the price of admission, if only to see him perform “Get Me to the Church on Time.”

Steak, fries, lamb chops and a mountain of whipped cream

It’s also no surprise that where to dine for the actual birthday dinner was given a lot of thought.  Several months ago, I put a reminder in my calendar of the date when January reservations open up for Eleven Madison Park — notoriously difficult to book.  Three Michelin stars and consistently on the World’s Best list.  Parenthetically, if you click on that link, #15 is White Rabbit in Moscow.  Yikes.  We did not think it was so wonderful on our visit there in May.  So lists can certainly be in the eye of the beholder.

Nonetheless, EMP had availability for Jan 8 so with the hubby’s blessing, the booking was made (and pre-paid in full).  The experience was so extraordinary that I’m dedicating a separate post to it (to follow).  The night before was a return trip to Daniel — an absolute favorite and site of my perfect 60th.  The restaurant is consistently grand and Daniel Boulud was in the house.

Below is the custom menu delivered at the end of the night.  I’m always grateful for this so I don’t have to either take notes or try to remember what scrumptious dishes were served!  Inside the box is a small pastry to take with, just in case we needed another bite …

In the kitchen with Chef Boulud and with the wine director lower right.
Five years ago on my 60th.

We got to visit with family as well for Sunday brunch at Les Leopard des Artistes, close to Lincoln Center.  And we had a late night drink with a dear Houston friend who happened to be in NY.  Remarkably this is the second birthday in a row we’ve seen him (see post)!

Regular readers might remember Aunt Judy (blue coat) who traveled to India with us. Her husband, son, daughter & son-in-law made up a lovely group!
We met up with Houstonian Fred Zeidman (left) and his NY friend Gary to close the bar in the wee hours.
First visit to Russ & Daughters Cafe, Lower East Side, for transparent salmon, amazing latkes, egg cream, rugulah and clever wallpaper
Bergdorf’s shoe department, where the hubby’s “dogs” are in repose as I scoured the sales racks (sadly, nothing for me)

As for the reflection part,  I am indeed blessed.  A loving and devoted husband, adult children launched and flourishing in their respective careers, a successful business with loyal clients, seeing the world, two close sisters and great friends.  It’s a lot.  I am so grateful that I trusted my instincts to make the choices in life that resulted in all of this.  No doubt, some luck was involved as well.  But I wake up every day happy in wonderful surroundings.  So life at 65 is pretty, pretty good.

 

Things I LoveU.S. TravelWining/Dining

NYC: GOING WITH THE FLOW IN THE SNOW!

Lucky me — back to the Big Apple again after last October’s visit (see previous post).  This time the hubby is in tow as the principal reason is a bat mitzvah celebration on his family’s side.  Of course I took the opportunity to schedule in a few fabulous meals and two Broadway shows plus an exhibit at the Met, all crammed in to four nights/three full days of non-stop action.
Never were the words “man plans and God laughs” more fitting than experiencing NYC’s second largest recorded snowfall, beginning the night before the event.  For much of the eastern seaboard, it became a series of plans changed, plans canceled, plans uncertain until the last minute, and everyone going with the flow.
Our original plan stayed in place for the first 24 hours: we checked into our hotel — The London on W. 54th.  A benefit of traveling to snowy cities are the reduced rates, plus this hotel’s location is superb for access to pretty much everything.
We landed in time to have dinner at the exquisite Le Bernardin, the flagship restaurant of Eric Ripert, garnering three Michelin stars, the 18th spot on the World’s Best List, and pretty much every other accolade out there.  The dining room is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen.  Service was impeccable but never snobby, even when I altered the chef’s recommended preparation of a dish. The four-course tasting menu is practically a bargain compared with others in this caliber .. Per Se (east coast sister to The French Laundry) used to be there but has apparently slipped (see review) and is more than twice the cost. The nearly all-female sommelier staff (6 in all) were very knowledgeable with a neatly-edited list focused on certain varieties — heavy on white and red burgundies.  I asked what percentage of patrons bring in their own wine and the answer was: “None.  It is not allowed.”  It was a spectacular meal in all aspects.  No wonder it is the toughest reservation around.
Hamachi sushi
Seafood pasta with
shaved truffles
Beautiful salad with
apple
Amazing white tuna
and waygu beef
Black walnut dessert

 

The all-white blossoms towered
in the center of the room
The Met visit included taking in the Costume Institute’s exhibit featuring international style/fashion icon Jacqueline de Ribes.  The hubby was about as interested in this as having a tooth extraction, but he makes an effort to be a willing participant for which I am grateful. What’s unique and special about this woman is her attention to detail — a dying art. Few women have the time, means and interest to concern themselves with always appearing “just so.” We live in an era of people getting on airplanes in flip-flops and tank tops. It’s not so much about the designer clothing, but rather the caring about one’s appearance which seems to be sadly diminished.  Enough said …
The gowns are timeless and look fresh
today as they did 30 years ago
The gown which she is shown wearing to a costume ball was on display
Not part of the exhibit but I was inspired to shoe shop after … Bergdorf’s still had their post-Christmas sale going on!
Friday afternoon was when the plans for Saturday and Sunday began to change so rapidly it was hard to keep up.  The bat mitzvah scheduled for Saturday late afternoon with evening party got moved to Sunday.   We made a beeline for the box office at Lincoln Center to change our Sunday matinée tickets (The King and I) to Saturday evening, plus change our nearby dinner reservation as well. So far, so good.  We informed the hotel we would be staying through Sunday instead of spending one night in Westchester and coming back to the city for a night.  No problem there.
We LOVED the hilarious Something Rotten  (second time for me) and departed the theater to a light dusting of snow as predicted late Friday evening.
Saturday morning was something entirely different as the snow was really coming down.  Nonetheless, the hubby hightailed it down to the box office to get matinée tickets (phenomenal seats!) for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime (again a repeat for me) —  as even in a snowstorm Hamilton is impossible.  Not 90 minutes later as we showed up at the theater we were informed our show — and all of Broadway — was cancelled due to the weather. In fact, the entire city was shutting down save for the hotels and the restaurants within the hotels.  Hello Jonas, the blizzard of 2016.  Frankly I don’t see why so many folks had to be hugely disappointed. In some cases the tickets are next to impossible to get; people traveled long distances for special occasions that they may never have again.  The actors were already in place; you could hear people cheering as they exited the stage doors to go home. Couldn’t the productions just have a big slumber party if folks connected with the shows couldn’t access their normal means for getting home???
Snow piled up in Times Square with the
 die-hards still trying to get tix before alerted to the closings
Why the smirk?  Because in the hubby’s
native Ohio, two feet of snow is called “spring.”
 
Fortunately our dinner that evening at Nougatine was spared (cannot say the same for the hotel’s umbrella which the wind literally dismantled). This is the more casual companion eatery to Jean-Georges at Columbus Circle.  Even that was all upside down as the casual side was overwhelmed in order to accommodate hotel guests (the restaurant is in Trump International Hotel, but you-know-who had nothing to do with this!) so we were seated in the formal dining room with our choice of menus. Anything goes in the face of a blizzard..
One of my favorite
shots … perhaps the
driver needed to make a hasty retreat.
Below as we’re walking
down Central Park South back to the hotel.  I would have killed for those cross-country skis.
we had a great time with the hubby’s family, most of whom live in the northeast or Florida so these visits are regrettably less frequent. Congrats to Lauren, the bat mitvah girl, and her family. It’s not easy undoing and redoing an event for which the planning begins more than a year in advance.
With the hubby’s cousins Andrew, Nancy (mom of Lauren) and David Stone.
Below are the beautiful grounds of Elmwood Country Club in Westchester County
As for the experience of being in the “center of the storm,” we actually thought it was quite an adventure … Shout out to JetBlue for getting us home on time Monday even with all the clean up!
International TravelThings I LoveWining/Dining

BARCELONA – LAST STOP IN SPAIN

Upon deciding to revisit Spain after a 28-year period, Barcelona was foremost on the list of cities to visit. After just a few days in this vibrant city on the Mediterranean, it is clear what the attraction is for so many — both inhabitants and tourists alike.
 
For sure the thing I am delighted about is NOT having a rental car during our stay. After needing the car to make the approximately one-hour drive to Girona for our much-anticipated dinner at El Cellar de Can Roca, I couldn’t wait to have the hotel take care of returning the car to Hertz.  Not only is this a city with excellent public transportation, but it is likewise full of “loco” drivers and tons of motorbikes weaving in and out of not-clearly-marked lanes.  Add in the buses, pedestrians, and the like, and I’ll gladly opt out of driving for once.
 
About that dinner around which our itinerary in Spain was planned, it definitely lived up to all the extraordinary reviews and Michelin stars, but in a most wonderful, fun, and not stuffy way.  There are three brothers Roca — Josep handles all the wine together with the four sommeliers for each seating (two seatings per day, Tues-Sat) and he greets every table; Joan is the head chef; baby brother Jordi is the pastry chef.  They must really get along because not only do they work closely, but they are rarely separated and all live near one another.
 
Doing justice to what was eaten is virtually impossible. As with the astonishing restaurants in San Sebastian (see previous post), a menu was provided at the meal’s end with course descriptions (to which I repeatedly referred in order to write this). We asked for and got a peek into the kitchen and a brief chat with all three brothers. More than one person inquired as to how we were going to be able to drive after the meal, but that wasn’t a problem. We were in the minority of guests — only 20% — who do NOT go with the wine pairing.  Thus a glass of champagne and sharing a half bottle of wine in no way impaired the drive back, especially after a good bit of food and a four-hour experience.  By the way, their wine pairing includes 14 different pourings, which we were told amount to 750ml — i.e., a full bottle per person. Following are photos and details:

 

Each table is set with just 3 rocks (for the brothers)

 

 

Clockwise from top left:  Live olive tree bonsai style with stuff olives attached to the branches; the hubby with one of three immense wine books on a rolling cart; sea bream foam and ceviche; pine nut duo
The above arrived closed (shown right) and then opened to reveal tastes of the globe, from Mexico/Turkey/China/Morocco/Korea.
Then it was local bar food a la Roca (complete with small cut-outs of the brothers): the red ball is filled with Campari which dissolved in the mouth.

 

From top left: Spring vegetable stock;mushroom bonbon and brioche; favorite: 3-corn ice cream
Fish, clockwise from top left: Skate with mustard; Mackerel; Oyster with anemone; Cuttlefish with peas; Surf & Turf – sardine with pork jowl; Prawn
Savories (clockwise from top left):  Crispy pig with garlic; Veal shin; Goose; Pidgeon. NO, I didn’t try everything!
And then there were the sweets.
Top row, l-r: Milk/Lime combo; Chocolate “anarchy”; Orange “Colourology” – frozen balls of all different orange flavors.
Left: Amazing rolling dessert cart. Right: The offerings.  The vertical cylinders are apple.  Ridiculous.
At the end (close to 1am):  Top is Josep – front of the house;
the gleaming and enormous stove;
head chef Joan (l) and pastry chef Jordi (r)
After returning to the hotel at nearly 2 a.m., hindsight would have been experiencing the meal at lunch en route to Barcelona.  This became abundantly clear after sleeping ’til noon!  Alas, small note to self in an otherwise spectacular experience. 
 

 

We then explored the city on foot followed by Flamenco tickets in the evening. The waterfront area is beautiful with a long walk between two prominent hotels: The Barcelona Arts and the W. In spite of rather cool and cloudy weather, many people still enjoyed a dip in the Mediterranean.  Finally, when in Barcelona — Spain to be sure — how can one not seek out the best paella? Our hotel sent us to La Salada Mar for the delicious dish and it did not disappoint.   

 

Above at the Hotel Arts (vacant) pool.  Frank Gehry’s “Goldfish” can been seen from everywhere on the waterfront.  Below is the seafood paella ..

 

An entirely different and terrific meal was at Dos Pallilos, whose owner and chef once worked at the now-shuttered El Bulli, long at the top of the world’s great restaurants.

 

Clockwise from top left: sauteed vegetables; “hamburger”; mushroom caps w/ garlic; seafood potstickers

 

The chef’s jacket from El Bulli is on display outside his new “home” — he is shown above (on the left) together with his crew making “raviolis” for the evening’s dinner seating.
After eight wonderful and certainly gastronomic days in Spain, we say adios and gracias for a lovely stay in this country.  It is a shame the country is not better managed — the unemployment rate is a whopping 23% — for we wish the people here greater success and encourage all to visit this beautiful destination.   Next stop: Milan.
 
International TravelThings I LoveWining/Dining

Eating in Spain: “Basqueing” in the Glow of San Sebastian

After the wonderful stay in Madrid written about the in previous post, we acquired our rental car and drove north some four hours to San Sebastian in Spain’s Basque region. I now know the reason this area is so unique and so concentrated with remarkable restaurants. 
The answer was provided by a fellow patron at Arzak, ranked #8 on the World’s Best List and featured in a wonderful documentary entitled Three Stars (well worth watching).  The aforementioned gentleman was making copious notes of each course. He told me he had been coming to the restaurant for years, but this time he was writing a review for a regional paper.  He is also a vintner from the Bordeaux region of France — about two or so hours north of San Sebastian.  This area has everything going for it to be a culinary dream-come-true:  Great purveyors of fresh produce, basically on the sea for fresh fish and remarkable cattle ranchers.  Then there’s the wine and olive oils. Put all those elements together and this is a foodie’s paradise.
We hadn’t even provided our name as we entered, but the hostess knew who we were. Likewise at the end, our car was delivered without so much as asking for or producing a ticket (none was given).  And the final touch was receiving the printed menu given to each and every guest with the listing of all their unique courses and wine.  This is a good thing because I could never remember so many complicated presentations.  The photos are a trip down memory lane. Suffice it to say, hand’s down the thing I will never forget was a presentation of sea bass. First an I-pad type of device was placed in front of me playing a video of crashing waves, and then the see-through glass plate was placed on top so one is reminded of the food’s origins.  Really?  Who thinks of these things?  Another memory was watching a napkin being refolded in the patron’s absence deftly using only spoons — no touching allowed.  Wow.
Underneath the sea bass and visible through the glass was a video playing of crashing waves.
A delicious (and reasonable) bordeaux; top is a crab “rock”; bottom is apple and beetroot
Top:  lamb with lotus; bottom:  amazing beef cheeks
Top:  “Searching for Hazelnuts”
Bottom: “Lunar Chocolate Square Moon”
Top:  “Factory Arzak” — all edible chocolate tools and hardware; with Chef/Owner Juan Mari Arzak, now 80 years old — his daughter Elena is really in charge day-to-day.
The Hotel Maria Cristina is a beautiful, beaux-arts type of structure — indeed it was once inhabited by Spanish royalty.  It is a few short blocks to the historic area of this seaside town, with narrow streets filled with lively bars offering pinxtos, the actual name of tapas.  Try as we might, we still couldn’t figure out the system of ordering/paying.  Everything looked fresh and appetizing, to be accompanied by a beer or glass of wine while watching ubiquitous soccer games. 
View from our wrap-around balcony
A great and impressive site is the Bilbao Guggenheim Museum, a short one-hour drive from San Sebastian.  To my mind, the art is appreciated as much for it’s scale as anything else — massive installations are typical.  But it was the building that was breathtaking and absolutely worth the journey. The Jeff Koons flowering dog in the front of the facility defies description as well … 

 

 

Continuing our gastronomic extravaganza in the region, we dined at Martin Berastagui, again for a lunch lasting more than two hours.  The chef/owner/proprietor obviously is committed to his craft, as he “lives above the store.”  And some kind of store it is, to be sure.  We were greeted before even making it up the steps by a lovely woman who took our photo in front of the bronze name plate.  Once inside the spacious and elegantly appointed room, the service was serious but not stuffy with everything “as you wish.” The hubby perused the extensive wine list and selected an excellent French red for $50 Euros, a good price considering the surroundings and offerings.  

 

View from the table above — the restaurant’s “back yard”

 

 

 

Clockwise from top left: Sea urchin foam; kumquat with anchovy; sea crunch tempura; smoked eel/foie-gras/onion/apple
 Top is the enormous wine book; The words above talk about the culture of this restaurant; how everything in nature is incorporated and the dishes would be destroyed if the portions were larger … some not exactly bite-size!
Salad … or work of art?

 

Top:  Wild Rabbit; Bottom:  Lamb
Top: Baked Chocolate — garnished with green beans (about the only way the hubby has ever consumed them); Bottom: Apple tarte — hand’s down best ever.
Sweets at the end and the most gorgeous hydrangeas on display.
One more to go in this amazing Spanish trifecta of renown restaurants …. to be continued in the next post.
U.S. TravelWining/Dining

THE FRENCH LAUNDRY — PARTY OF 4; OTHER STORIES FROM THANKSGIVING IN NAPA

How does one judge whether something is considered wildly extravagant or simply a great luxury to be savored? That was the question debated when we (the hubby and I) took our two adult children — both mid 20’s — to the French Laundry for one of the restaurant’s remarkable gastronomic experiences.   Obviously this was their first time, but happily it was not ours … 

20th Anniversary Logo on the gorgeous china with the signature clothespin

Not surprisingly they are both foodies (must be in the genes) with no push back from trying new and wondrous dishes. It typically takes years to experience multiple restaurants at this level, but they have been fortunate to have dined previously at Michelin-starred eateries Daniel and Providence, so we knew this was an experience all could enjoy equally.  It goes without saying that the cost is dear; opinions vary widely on whether one can even put a price-tag on the return for this particular investment.  But that is most definitely a first-world dilemma…

Managed to keep it to one bottle of Cab Franc

I forged ahead with camera and notebook in hand to record this meal, booked for 1pm on Saturday.   The restaurant was full, even for lunch over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.  The son had studied the winelist in depth online (he works in this arena via his company http://www.cellarmgmt.com/) so selecting what to drink was a fairly quick decision. The other choices were simple: Chef’s Tasting or Vegetarian Tasting (roughly eight or nine small courses), and whether to have one of the supplements (truffles were a no, but we had to try the Waygu beef).

What sets this restaurant apart — and what has impressed me over the years — is the perfection from start to finish.  There is not a detail overlooked. Every dish has it’s own special plate, even if that means for one tiny course.  Every one of the staff is attentive and accommodating, but what I would call “user-friendly.”  In other words, they don’t make one feel intimidated even if being served an unfamiliar dish or ingredient for the first time.  There is a genuine appreciation for the customer — as though the place were just getting started. As for what we ate, here you go:  

Oysters & Pearls — a classic item made with tapioca
Salted butter or sweet butter?
From top:  Hearts of Palm Salad; Japanese Medai fish;
Poached Lobster (my favorite); Squab; Lamb
Cheese course with pear “pudding”
The desserts:  Mini Apple Tarte; Ice Cream with Pistachio Base; Chocolate floating something;
all-time amazing “Coffee & Donuts” — acutally a frozen cappucino in the cup with fresh beignet
To finish, chocolates & macaroons plus
small tins of shortbread cookies to take home
Son Sam engages the sommelier in the wine cellar 

Of course it certainly helps to have the French Laundry Culinary Garden (comprising three acres) directly across the street, bringing new meaning to the term “farm to table.”  We were also given a booklet showcasing some of the Chef Thomas Keller’s many partners (purveyors).  His philosophy of being intimately involved in the food production way before it is ever served plays a huge role in the quality of the end product.  Was it worth it?  Just ask the kiddies who want to know when they can go back …  



As for the rest of the trip, we had a wonderful Thanksgiving meal in Marin with many cousins and extended family and were grateful for the shared time with all.  We had a terrific meal at Bottega Napa — Chef Michael Chiarello’s flagship in Napa across from his Napa Style store.  Bar Terra and Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen were two others serving up delicious food.  And then there was the wine acquired to bring home, so much that we had to ship two cases. Even with the long and somewhat crowded trip home, at the end of the holiday weekend in the rain, we felt enormously thankful for the time spent with each other and for being able to do what we do.

This required a black belt in packing!

 

International TravelWining/Dining

SOUTH AMERICAN JOURNEY

And, once again, the big travel begins! I invite you to travel along with me and the hubby as we journey to Lima and Cusco en route to Macchu Picchu in Peru, then Guayaquil, the Galapagos Islands, and Quito in Ecuador, and finally Cartagena and Bogota in Colombia.  Yep, that is a lot of ground to cover in three weeks (12 flights total) … but there is so much to see and experience here. So why not cover the northwest area of this immense continent this time, and hopefully return to several countries not yet visited (Chile and Argentina were loved on a previous trip here). Good news is there is only a 2-hour time change from Los Angeles so not having to deal with jet lag means we can hit the ground running.
 
First stop:  Peru 
always say there’s at least one “OOPSIE” on every trip and I’m hoping the one we had getting here is it .. a luggage snafu which thankfully is a rare occurrence given the amount of travel we are fortunate to enjoy.  This was due solely to a late LAX departure, missing the planned Miami connection to Lima and opting to accept the next flight on LAN, not our original carrier.  Instead of the luggage arriving with us, it arrived 24 hours later after a series of mis-communications.  But if the worse thing that happens is staying in the same clothes for 48 hours (including all the travel time to luggage delivery), I will take it … 



Best sight so far ..

Our first dinner spot was recommended by our hotel and an excellent choice. Dining hours are very European in terms of time .. i.e., few dine before 8:30 and most much later.  So we Americanos are easy to spot as the “early birds.”   Cala – Mar de Amor – was close by, overlooking the ocean with waves crashing, and really delicious.  A few pix follow ..



Hummus Peruvian style

 

Shrimp with Sweet Potato Puree

 

The Lighted Cross is an iconic symbol in Lima, erected when John Paul II visited.
 

 

Library in Santo Domingo

We toured the historic part of Lima — the downtown area, Presidential Palace, Covento de Santo Domingo, and then to the upscale areas of San Isidro and finally the coastline of Miraflores where we stayed. As is typical of many countries, one-third of Peru’s population resides in this capital city (9 million); it is quite large and diversified.

Downtown Lima


Another first-rate meal at was at Amar Amor.  Peru has become quite the food paradise, and this restaurant was no exception.  Unquestionably the highlight dinner was at Astrid y Gaston, voted the #1 Restaurant in South America. Rather than opt for the multi-course (28!), prix-fix, formal menu offered, we chose instead the more casual ala carte bar menu. This was just a great experience.

Our biggest challenge was getting a true translation of the complex dishes, as the English version menu was not available (the restaurant had just moved to a new location).  The staff was very helpful, professional and friendly, and we were thrilled to meet Astrid herself (Chef Gaston was in Paris), who not only is present but seemed to know most of the guests.  Photos follow of the most delicious food ..

From the raw menu 

 

Best dish:  Shrimp with quinoa (native to Peru) and baby vegetables

 

Tres Leches dessert

 











There was a short flight (1:20) for the stay in Cusco (and trip highlight Machu Picchu);  one can drive from Lima but it would take 20 hours as there are no shortcuts through the mountains. Cusco is a city of 500,000, most of whom depend on the tourists for their livelihood, although there is a new copper mine providing well-paying jobs. Our accommodations were in an old monastery (Hotel Monasterio), which is quite elegant but small as they are not permitted to move any interior walls. Adjusting to the altitude (11,000 ft) is challenging .. tons of water, a special Mate de Coca tea offered everywhere, and taking it easier than normal.  My only complaint was a chronic headache. They are having El Nino … this year it will rain approximately 55″ and the weather changes at a moment’s notice.   For the backpackers (of which there are tons), inexpensive hostels are everywhere.




Our trusty guide Camila and driver Fausto, provided by tour company Belmond,  were very knowledgeable, professional, and punctual and enabled us to navigate the remarkably narrow, cobblestone streets and see the sights .. the main church beautifully decorated for Easter, some nearby ruins, and cavorting among the llamas, alapacas, and even the precious vicunyas whose yarn is the priciest.  We visited The Sacred Valley of the Incas, which is pretty spectacular, including Ollantaytambo in the Urubamba Valley but skipped the 260 steps to the top …



 



A highlight of the day was lunch at the Hacienda Huayoccari, the drive to which is positively daunting, which made this majestic destination even more remarkable. Wonderful food, beautiful table setting and another incredible view of the valley. 

 

 

 

 

 


 Next post:  Machu Picchu …