Cusco at last


Another day, another beautiful city in Peru, our last for this trip, alas. We are also staying at a lovely old hotel, the Ninos Hotel (the one on Meloc Street). It is run by a nonprofit that uses the proceeds to support needy children AND it turns out to also be very charming and affordable. Right now I am sitting Ina n adirondack style chair on the second floor terrace overlooking the hotel’s charming courtyard which has stone arches, wooden balconies, a gurgling fountain and lots of potted plants. This is an old colonial building which like several of the places we have stayed in Peru, offers little clue from the outside of the world within. From the street it is a stone building with a big green wood door with lots of ornamental brass thingamajigs. Our room is somewhat spartan but in a chic way, with well chosen tables, beds, light fixtures. Not bad for $50 a night.

Cusco reminds us a little of Arequipa because of the main square which is dominated by a cathedral and Jesuit church and rimmed by arcade-style buildings lining a lovely park. But the architecture is different. The cathedral and church are not the white Arequipa stone but a light brown stone. There are also lots of narrow lanes made of round cobblestones and big flat stone blocks leading up from the plaza into the pretty artsy neighborhood of San Blas, which is fun to explore, with lots of little shops selling baby alpaca sweaters, handmade jewelry, textiles from the amazon, handmade macramé and stone necklaces sold by Anglo kids who display their stuff on the sidewalk. The setting for Cusco is also very dramatic. It is set into a valley with mountains gently rising off in the distance on all sides. At times the city reminds me of Greece (especially the San Blas lanes) or of Spain (especially all the lovely plazas sprinkled around downtown) or of Florence (given all the art and artists around.)

The sights we have seen:
– The Jesuit church on the main plaza and the cathedral, both which have astonishingly ornate gold covered altars. The cathedral has famous “cusco school” paintings which are an interesting mix of European style art and Andean influences. This includes the famous Last Supper painting where Christ and friends are dining on, among other things, cuy (aka guinea pig).
– the main market, Mercado San Pedro. I never tire of wandering around the markets in these towns (or just about any town) because you see how people live, what they buy, what they sell, what they eat (chicken soup served on big porcelain bowls was a popular item at lunch, with people sitting on benches in front of the stands where,the soup was prepared on the spot, holding the bowls and eating.)
– Qorikancha, another impressive Inca ruin that the Spanish build a colonial church and convent right on top of so it is an odd hybrid architecturally.
– a terrific textile museum/shop selling woven items from different villages. It also had a really interesting exhibit on how the weavers work, all by hand.
– the museum of popular art, a hidden gem, that displays the folk art of artists from about the 1930s onward, all kinds of tableaus of Christian scenes and everyday life scenes with figures made of clay or tin or silver or bronze. One Christ on the cross was made of cuy bones (aka guinea pig)’
More tomorrow on the food…

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