Wednesday, September 3, 2014

A Weekend in Peru: Lima, Cusco and Machu Picchu

With the weather a sweltering 90 degrees in most of the US, I’m longing for another trip to Peru to visit its cooler climes.  But it’s not just for the weather.  A visit to Machu Picchu, Cusco and Lima offers a wonderful foodie and adventure getaway even for a long weekend, thanks to new service provided on JetBlue from Fort Lauderdale to Lima.

JW Marriott Lima
I chose to visit this “bucket list” area for four days, starting my trip in the Miraflores district of Lima. A great stopover en route to Machu Picchu, Lima is one of the upcoming foodie destinations in South America with chefs like Virgilio Martinez and Gaston Acurio and restaurants that are consistently named among the best in the world. 
Fruit ceviche at Central

I stayed at the contemporary JW Marriott Hotel Lima, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The hotel was near one of the finest restaurants in Peru, the Central Restaurante. With its airy design and open kitchen, the restaurant defined cutting-edge gastronomy and orientation. Chef Virgilio Martinez, as charming as he is passionate about the biodiversity of foods in Peru, made a point of explaining his philosophy of integrating foods along a vertical plane: specifically including products from the varying altitudes of the country. The menu that evening included ingredients from the sea (seaweed calamari on coral), the coast (native corn), the Andes (tuber chamomile), and the Amazon (spicy roots).  Gorgeous plating of charred purple corn-scented octopus, served with lentils, botija olives, sprouts and tree tomato; and beef short rib that had been soaked for 24 hours in water left me wanting more.


From Lima, the flight to Cusco on LAN was a snap, significantly shorter than the one from Fort Lauderdale to Lima, although not as luxe.  My hotel in an old market building was cool and trendy, with a gracious mix of thoughtful amenities and comfort.  Views over city rooftops were striking, and the location was an easy walk to the city’s outdoor markets, Cathedral, and even a Starbucks.  Further afoot and requiring a car, glorious views from the ancient Sacsayhuamam sanctuary and its pre-Incan Killke ruins showed off the entire valley with jaw-dropping angles.

Cusco, known as “the belly of the world,” has much to see in the way of history and mysticism.  Officially named a World Heritage site in 1983, Cusco was the historic capital of the Inca Empire from the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries. The richness of this culture pervades the city, its religious icons and its ruins to this day.  
Cusco Cathedral

The food market, daily arts and crafts marketplace, and The Plaza de Armas offered a solid dose of history and culture. Each was filled with the colors and beauty of Peru, particularly the gold-filled Cusco Cathedral. El Museo del Pisco provided a different kind of history and more exploration motivation with tastings of Peru’s national drink, a brandy made in the coastal desert plains of the country. Sample pisco straight up, in cocktails, in a flight, and served with appropriate tapas in this multi-floor temple to the beverage. 
El Museo del Pisco, Cusco

Two restaurants gave me the dining experiences I was looking for, a mix of tradition torqued forward through multicultural influences: the Mediterranean-oriented Cicciolina  and Peruvian-fusion Limo .
Alpaca skewers, Limo
McDonald's, Cusco

In the Plaza de Armas, I encountered, in amusing juxtaposition, KFCMcDonald’s and the fabulously creative Limo, all three enjoying wonderful views of the flower-filled plaza and each with a Peruvian style of its own.  Limo, a standout for ceviches, tiraditos, and various sushi fantasies, uses Peruvian ingredients highly prized by chefs around the world, such as pink salt, aji (chili pepper), and huacatay (black mint). You’ll also find Peruvian favorites like alpaca steak skewers that pair remarkably well with an aji seco, a chili-infused drink from Limo’s extensive Pisco menu, or chicha morada, a sweetish drink made from purple corn. A wall of windows let you watch the comings of goings of the city while you enjoyed your meal and drinks from the pisco bar.
Alpaca carpaccio, Cicciolina

Scallops, Cicciolina
Pisco coca, Limo


Set in the second floor of an old colonial house, Cicciolina presented an array of traditional Peruvian dishes tapas-style, including guinea pig (cuy), alpaca and ceviche. Cicciolina’s cuy is presented “causa style,” set atop a fine yellow potato mash with chilies and caramelized apple. Alpaca carpaccio is a gorgeous spread of thin slices with huacatay oil, goat cheese and cherry tomatoes. I also loved the Peruvian scallops barbecued and topped with crispy garlic and lime. Heartier Mediterranean fare was also composed creatively with vegetables and herbs from the Sacred Valley. It was easy to stay and savor in this friendly, art-filled restaurant, as colorful and creative as the galleries below.

Plaza de Armas

A fitting contrast to these finer dining venues, a restaurant frequented by locals satisfied a late-night craving for the Peruvian version of pizza.  Served on thick crust, dripping with cheese and other toppings, the pies at Marengo Pizzeria and the cheery servers fostered a fun evening of beer, pizza and camaraderie. I especially loved the giant meat-centric Marengo, topped with bacon, ham, and sausage.
El Mercado Tunqui

My base in Cusco, El Mercado Tunqui Hotel, is a member of Mountain Lodges of Peru, a group of hotels known for their location and fostering of trekking itineraries.  El Mercado is a short walk up a hill from the marketplace and Plaza de Armas, and is set in a building formerly used as the city’s old farmer’s market. With a beautiful open-air courtyard, quirky art installations throughout, and expansive windows that bring the views of the hills and greenery inside, the 32-room boutique hotel provided every comfort you could want: a cushy bed, a thoughtfully appointed bathroom, a tablet for your use, and a quiet respite from the outdoor activity.  The bar, for a traditional Pisco Sour or a Mate de Coca (to help acclimatize to the altitude), and the Taberna restaurant were also welcome spots when my feet gave out from climbing up and down the hills or touring the sites.


Cusco is the jumping off point for a visit to Machu Picchu.  Unless you’re determined to hike the Inca Trail (an aruduous four-day  trek that requires a bit of planning), I strongly suggest taking one of the panoramic trains which parallels it.  With a glass ceiling, broad windows on both sides, food and beverage service, masked musicians, and even a fashion show of alpaca sweaters, shawls, and scarves, the train trip was both entertaining and beautiful. The Vistadome train ( leaves from Poroy, just 20 minutes from Cusco.

Arriving in Aguas Calientes, the destination city for visiting Machu Picchu, is an adventure itself.  The sheer number of daily visitors makes for a chaotic scene, as you transfer by way of the Indian Market to a shuttle bus that takes you to the entrance to Machu Picchu.  By the way, if you’re afraid of winding hilly roads, this may be the time to invest in a good eye mask for your ride in what is essentially an old school bus.

Although it’s possible to stay in a hotel in Aguas Calientes, I would recommend returning to Cusco to unwind in a quieter environment and enjoy an evening of great food and drink.(I didn’t have time on this visit, but I would have added two other restaurants to my foodie pilgrimages: MAP Cafe and Gaston Acurio’s Chicha.)

Meryl at Machu PIcchu
I had always wanted to visit Machu Picchu. I love the mystery of ruins and the cultures they conjure up. When I visited Rapa Nui (Easter Island) seven years ago, the island's 800 or more Moai grabbed my attention in a major way, particularly since no one could definitively explain why and how they were there, and what they represented. With Machu Picchu, we have more information to go on. Or at least more theories that make sense. The Incans built their astronomic-religious city high atop a peak in the Andes in the fifteenth century but vacated after the arrival of Spanish conquistadors in the 1500s.  Discovered by American historian Hiram Bingham in 1911, most of the artifacts from Machu Picchu were seized and moved to Yale University for preservation and study. (They have since been returned to Peru.)  The most significant and tangible legacy of the Inca civilization, this “Lost City of the Incas” was named a World Heritage property in 1983, with reconstruction continuing in present times. The view of the Citadel is one of the most recognizable in the world.

The first thing you try to comprehend is why the engineers of Machu Picchu chose this location, so removed from anywhere else, and seemingly so protected on its perch in the mountains.  (At its highest point, Machu Picchu’s La Ciudadela sits more than 8000 feet above sea level.) Was there a mystical reason why the Incans chose the meeting point between the Peruvian Andes and the Amazon Basin? Were the risks so great that they needed to keep themselves well hidden, without accessibility to roads, water and other creature comforts? Or was Machu Picchu simply one of the many estates built at that time to escape the colder climes of higher-altitude Cusco?

Machu Picchu
As I walked among the temples and homes, and imagined the llamas and other animals that had lived with the residents, I marveled at the range of people climbing the broken and steep steps, from young children clinging to parents to seniors walking with canes, all from a multitude of countries.  There was electricity in the air that seemed borne out by the compass that spun in only one direction.  Another mystical omen? People swear by the special energy you can feel here. Touch the Sacred Rock and they say the energy will stay with you.

I could have spent three more days in Machu Picchu, easily, sitting and speculating about the type of life that had existed there.  The Incans had all been killed off.  The civilization had vanished with no one to inherit the treasures of this community, and only a moderate understanding of why.  In some ways, the mysteries of Machu Picchu were like the secrets of Rapa Nui, except that we know far more about the civilization of the Incas and their ways of life.  Would I go back?  Absolutely.  But next time I want to bring my hiking boots.

A few practical notes: a valid passport is required for entry into Peru.  It is wise to obtain altitude sickness medication in advance to prevent headaches and other maladies. Flat shoes or sneakers are a must, as the hills, especially in Cusco, can be daunting.  Be sure to turn off roaming on your cellular phone and use WiFi whenever possible – charges are especially high in the hills.  For more information, contact the Trade Commission of Peru, 310-496-7411, 



Thursday, August 28, 2014

Baltimore Orioles: Maryland Fancation in Baltimore

For this installment in the Fancations series of vacations, we’re heading to the city where crab cakes and baseball go hand-in-hand: Baltimore. Nicknamed Charm City, this vibrant city is home to the renowned Maryland crab cake and baseball’s most legendary baseball hero, Babe Ruth.

Baseball Stop:  Oriole Park at Camden Yards to visit the Baltimore Orioles
For a relatively new stadium, opened in 1992, Camden Yards is full of history. Standing a mere two blocks away from Babe Ruth’s birthplace, the attractive stadium was built on land where Babe Ruth’s father’s saloon once stood. Ruth’s legacy lives on through “Babe’s Dream,” a bronze statue of the great ball player, located at the northwest corner of the ballpark at Eutaw and Camden streets. Camden Yards sits on the former site of a Baltimore & Ohio Railroad hub of the early 1900s, and the original B&O warehouse still stands beyond right field as a reminder of the area’s rich history.  An instant success, Oriole Park is a retro stadium that takes the best of legendary ballparks like Ebbets Field and Wrigley Field while building in modern conveniences. Note the brick design that hearken back to stadiums past.

Walk through the dugout during a stadium tour, with a stop at Sports Legends Museum to learn more about the greatest players in baseball history. Be sure to check out the small plaques along Eutaw Street that show where home runs have landed.

There are always special ticket promotions going on, and if you’re traveling with the family check out Kids’ Night, when all kids get free admission. Game tickets can be purchased here. If you’re lucky enough to score a club seat, you’ll have access to an inner BBQ buffet and bar area, especially welcoming when temperatures skyrocket at the park.

Where to eat in Camden Yards: Boog’s Barbeque serves up mouthwatering BBQ, a guaranteed crowd pleaser at the ballpark. Try one of Boog’s savory pit beef or turkey sandwiches, consistently ranked among Top Ten lists of signature ballpark food items. Stop by between innings for the chance to meet the man behind the grub, Boog Powell, a former first baseman.

After the game, plenty of sightseeing opportunities await you throughout Charm City.

Start at the Harbor:
Just a 12-minute walk from Camden Yards, the Inner Harbor Waterfront Promenade offers lots of shopping and sightseeing opportunities. At the Harborplace and The Gallery, you’ll find a wide range of well-known stores as well as local boutiques. The Harborplace also hosts various concerts and street performances year-round. Open Monday-Saturday 10am-9pm, Sunday 12pm-6pm; 200 East Pratt Street.

Transformed from an industrial workplace into a cultural center in the 1970s, Baltimore’s Inner Harbor has become increasingly tourist-friendly, and plans to make the water swimmable over the next few years will undoubtedly attract more visitors. Until then, visitors can rent a paddleboat at the harbor’s Pier 1 to explore the area. Keep an eye out for the giant neon Domino Sugar sign, a recognizable fixture in Baltimore’s skyline.

Celebrate national history:

From September 10-16, Baltimore will host the Star-Spangled Spectacular, to celebrate the national anthem’s 200th anniversary. This iconic piece of American history was written by Francis Scott Key in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Festival highlights will include a 7000-person Star-Spangled Banner Living Flag, performances by the Blue Angels and the 200th March of the Defenders from Patterson Park to Battle Acre Park in Baltimore County.

A star-studded concert on September 13 will feature Kristen Chenoweth, Little Big Town, Pentatonix and a surprise guest. All events are free of charge and open to the public. The full event schedule can be found here.

Explore the museums:

For a “living” museum experience, visit the Historic Ships in Baltimore, an impressive collection of military vessels used from the mid-19th century to the mid-1980s. The museum consists of four docked historical ships and a lighthouse, which you can explore first-hand with the help of a complimentary audio tour wand. Various artifacts and personal effects left behind from crew members give a glimpse into life at sea aboard the well-preserved USS Constellation, US Submarine Torsk, US Coast Guard Cutter Taney and the Lightship Chesapeake. Also visit the Seven Foot Knoll Lighthouse, which marked the entrance to Baltimore Harbor for more than 130 years. Visitors can assume the role of a crew member by participating in a gun drill and may even meet a former crew member. Begin the tour at Pier 1, 301 East Pratt Street; 410-539-1797.

Located across the street from the Harbor, The American Visionary Art Museum houses quirky art exhibits from around the world and sponsors numerous family-friendly activities. Open Tuesday-Sunday from 10am-6pm; 800 Key Highway; 410-244-1900.

North of the harbor, in Baltimore’s Mount Vernon neighborhood, is the Walters Art Museum. Here you’ll find a dynamic collection of nearly 30,000 pieces of artwork, including treasures dating back to pre-dynastic Egypt. Exhibits including “Seeing Music in Medieval Manuscripts,” a collection of 20 objects that explore music’s influence and relationship to the arts during the Middle Ages are popular draws. Open Wednesday-Sunday from 10am-5pm; 600 N. Charles Street; 410-547-9000.

Discover Baltimore by boat:

Ride the Baltimore Water Taxi for a scenic transfer among several of Baltimore’s most popular attractions. Transporting passengers to the Aquarium, Science Center, Fells Point and Fort McHenry, the water taxi is a great way to sightsee while in transit to your next activity. For the most up-to-date schedule and hours of operation, visit hereClimb aboard the Annapolitan II for a narrated cruise around the harbor with Watermark Cruises. The 45-minute Inner Harbor cruise introduces you to the Inner Harbor’s most historic attractions. The National Anthem Tour by Sea gives an hour-long introduction to Maryland’s noteworthy role in the War of 1812 and how the state contributed to our nation’s independence. For gorgeous views of the illuminated Domino Sugar sign at twilight, hop on the Saturday City Lights Cruise.

Walk the Monuments:

Ten blocks north of the Inner Harbor is the Washington Monument, where visitors can climb 228 steps to the top to enjoy panoramic city views. Take a tour of the Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine and meander through the battleground that is credited as the birthplace of the National Anthem. The park is open daily from 8am-5pm; Star Fort and Visitor Center open daily from 8am-4:45pm; 2400 East Fort Avenue; 410-962-4290.


Check in at the Admiral Fell Inn for a cozy 
night in one of the Historic Hotels of America. The inn dates back to the 1770s and is located right in the heart of Baltimore’s picturesque Fells Point. There’s always something going on at the Inn, from historic ghost tours to the Admiral’s Tea and Historic Storytelling. The Inn’s two on-site restaurants, Meli Patisserie & Bistro and Tapas Adela, offer fine dining options perfect for an afternoon pick-me-up or a sit-down dinner. 888 South Broadway, 410-522-7380.

Catch some great deals during your stay at the Admiral Fell Inn. The hotel offers guests VIP entry and discounts at several of the area’s attractions, including the wonderful National Aquarium and the Maryland Science Center.

National Aquarium hours: Open Saturday-Thursday 9am-6:30pm, Friday 9am-9:30pm; 501 East Pratt Street; 410-576-3800;
Maryland Science Center hours: Open Tuesday-Friday 10am-5pm, Saturday 10am-6pm, Sunday 11am-5pm; 601 Light Street; 410-685-2370.

During your stay, spend an afternoon in the Fells Point Historic District. Lining the cobblestone streets are refurbished and replicas of original 18th- and 19th-century homes and storefronts. A stroll through this quaint waterfront community will bring you to a plethora of shops, restaurants and bars.


Any trip to Baltimore would be incomplete without a hearty helping of the famous Maryland blue crabs. Founded in 1886 and still standing in its original Lexington Market location, Faidley Seafood is known for serving traditional seafood with a twist. The casual atmosphere and the award-winning crab cakes make Faidley’s the ideal place to grab a quick bite. Dozens of other vendors in Lexington Market provide sweet and savory meal options. Open Monday-Saturday 8:30am-6pm; 400 W. Lexington Street; 410-685-6169.

Or dine outdoors and admire the elegance of the Inner Harbor at the famous Phillip’s Seafood. You can buy a box of their famous Old Bay seasoning to recreate your Baltimore seafood memories at home. Open Sunday-Thursday 11am-9pm, Friday-Saturday 11am-10pm; 301 Light Street, Baltimore, MD 21202; 410- 685-6600.

In the historic Fells Point/Canton area, look no further than Mama’s on the Half Shell for an expansive seafood menu. Sit at Mama’s raw oyster bar or enjoy the festive décor of the upstairs dining room as you feast on jumbo lump crab cakes, shrimp, oysters and other seafood traditions. Visit on Sunday between 9am-2pm to experience Mama’s seafood take on Sunday brunch. Seafood omelets and lobster hash are just a few of the delicious meals served during brunch. A Bloody Mary served with pickled vegetables is an absolute must. 2901 O’Donnell Street, Baltimore, 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Waze: A Must- Have Social GPS for All Travelers

I've been on the road a lot this summer, so I feel I can speak with authority about this amazing (and free) app that saves me precious time every day.  If you haven't discovered Waze, you're truly missing out on one of the travel world's most brilliant tools. 

As long as you can get a good connection via your cellphone or tablet, Waze will help navigate you on the road, bypassing traffic jams, accidents, and police to speed you to your destination.  Based on real-time monitoring of fellow Wazers and their real-time reports of traffic snarls and "hazards," Waze determines the most expeditious route for you to take. In many occasions, I have had the navigation system of my car "arguing" with Waze about the correct turn to make. "Turn right," says Waze. "Turn left," demands my car's bossy Nav system. When in doubt, I'll always take Waze.  You can also get handy tips on where to find restaurants, gas stations, and other important travel needs. To induce you to participate, you receive points for alerting others about travel conditions.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Dancing through the Bronx Parks, August 13-16: Free Performances

Part of a collaborative effort sponsored by the National Endowment of the Arts to introduce new audiences to contemporary dance, DANCING THROUGH THE BRONX is a site-specific dance festival in three green spaces of varying size and topography. The programs, some choreographed by Bronx artists, follow a format of three consecutive 12-minute dances and conclude with a cipher (a free-style dance circle with audience participation). The program is supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, Con Edison, the Metz Gilmore Foundation, and Bronx Pro Real Estate Management. 

Performed on all three evenings, with nuances varying by location, are works byJames “Cricket” Colter, featuring five hip hop dancers who will adapt a broad vocabulary of hip hop styles to each park’s terrain; and by Larry Keigwin, featuring 30 performers—six KEIGWIN + COMPANY members and 24 community members of all ages and abilities.

In addition, three artists will showcase their work on one evening each. Ni’Ja Whitson Adebanjo created and will perform a duet with a sound artist, integrating ritual performance with the contours and textures of one of Wave Hill’s exquisite gardens. At Hayden Lord Park, Toni Renee Johnson explores the relationship between passivity and aggression in a work that guides the audience to follow a trio of dancers through different sections of the intimate park. Arthur Aviles resurrects his popular Ritual Dance with 15 dancers who will spread out through Owen Dolen Park, performing simultaneous solos to the same beat, which they will create by clapping their hands and an occasional shout.

The program is part of the 30-year legacy of Dancing in the Streets to bring free dance and culture to unusual locales throughout the, 917-714-2221

Wednesday, August 13, 6:30pm
Choreographers:                Ni’Ja Whitson Adebanjo, James "Cricket" Colter, and Larry Keigwin
Location:                            Wave Hill, 675 West 252nd Street, Bronx (Riverdale)

Wave Hill, one of 33 New York City-owned cultural institutions, is a 28-acre public garden and cultural center in the Bronx overlooking the Hudson River. Historic Wave Hill House was built as a country home in 1843 by William Lewis Morris and has since been home to Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and Arturo Toscanini, among others. Its spectacular grounds include lush lawns; aquatic, herb and wild gardens; vine-covered pergolas; woodland trails and a broad variety of perennial and annual flowers. 

Admission: The performance is free to all attendees. But if you’d like to visit Wave Hill starting at 4pm to enjoy the green space, a pre-performance picnic, or just chill, there is a small entrance fee of $10 for adults, $6 for students and seniors, and $4 for children 6-18 is required.

Thursday, August 14, 4:30pm
Choreographers:                James "Cricket" ColterToni Renee Johnson, andLarry Keigwin
Location:                            Hayden Lord Park, 1667 Andrews Avenue, Bronx (University Heights)

Hayden Lord Park is a small park that was inspired by Gaudi’s artwork in Barcelona’s Park Güell. Opened in September 2013, and located between two Bronx Pro buildings, the park has transformed a formerly under-utilized urban space into a colorful oasis for community gatherings, art making, and quiet contemplation.

Saturday, August 16, 2pm
Choreographers:                Arthur Aviles, James "Cricket" Colter, and Larry Keigwin
Location:                            Owen Dolen Park, 2551 Westchester Avenue, Bronx (Westchester Square)

Owen Dolen Park is the hub of Westchester Square. It is located on the site of the historic Village Green, which was the center of the thriving 17th-century Westchester Village. Rehabilitation of the park began in September 2011.


  • James “Cricket” Colter is a world-known, respected professional street dancer. He is a founding member of Rennie Harris Pure Movement, and he performs, choreographs, and teaches at dance festivals worldwide. Cricket danced in the film Step Up 2 the Streets and in music videos with Will Smith, Boys II Men, and KRS-1 among others. He recently formed his own company Crazy-Natives with the goal of pushing the limits of hip hop dance and integrating it with other contemporary dance forms.
  • Larry Keigwin is a native New Yorker and choreographer who has danced his way from the Metropolitan Opera to downtown clubs to Broadway and back. He founded KEIGWIN + COMPANY in 2003; and has since created dozens of works for K+C, as well as for the Royal New Zealand Ballet, The Martha Graham Dance Company, Vail International Dance Festival, Dancing in the Streets, and the Broadway musical If/Then.
  • Arthur Aviles is a Bessie Award-winning dance pioneer who rose to international acclaim when he danced with the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company. Among his many awards, Aviles received the NYC Mayor’s Arts Award for his artistic leadership of BAAD! Bronx Arts Academy for Art and Dance.
  • Toni Renee Johnson is a performer, choreographer, educator and director. She is the Artistic Director of the Bronx-based Maverick Dance Experience and is currently the Program Director at Marquis Studios. Johnson creates bold work rooted in social commentary, blood memory and interpersonal relationships.
  • Ni’Ja Whitson Adebanjo is an interdisciplinary artist, writer, and full-time lecturer at Lehman College who has performed and conducted research, residencies, and master classes in Africa, Brazil, Canada and the USA, including at the Apollo, Roulette, and at the Art Institute of Chicago. Whitson Adebanjo is a Movement Research Artist in Residence and a performer in the national tour of River See written and conducted by Sharon Bridgforth.

    Hungry?  Make your way to Arthur Avenue for a selection of wonderful Italian restaurants or the Arthur Avenue Retail Market where you can put together your own Italian picnic.  Read here for some help in planning your meals.