Sunday, July 15, 2018

Machu Picchu!

One of the main highlights of Peru is Machu Picchu. This was actually the reason that we decided to come to the country at all. I know that this is something you can do with kids (check out this awesome blog!), but it wasn't something we were up for. This was the perfect opportunity to see Machu Pichu while we're still relatively young and healthy--and kid free!

Let me tell you, Machu Picchu lives up to all of the hype! I was worried that it wouldn't be that amazing in person, but pictures really don't do this site justice. You can't capture the breadth and depth of the ruins. Scale is so hard to comprehend until you're standing in the middle of them, or viewing them from the top of a mountain--like we did!

View of Machu Picchu from the top of Huayna Picchu  

But let's start at the beginning where we waited in the pouring rain for more than an hour to get up to the top. We grabbed a poncho from the lady on the street, and thankfully it cleared up as soon as we drove up to the base of Machu Picchu.

View at Machu Picchu 

View a few minutes later

We hired a guide at the entrance gates. It's really simple to do and most of them speak English pretty well. We had tickets to climb Huayna Picchu starting at 10:00, so we had a few hours to explore. To be honest, it didn't hit me as immediately as it did Dan. He was wowed before the clouds even lifted. For me though, it was hearing about the city, how they excavated it from the jungle, and seeing the ritual rooms they built that made me grasp just how impressive the Incans were. I can't begin to describe what difficult terrain this is. But the Incans were able to build great cities and create arable land out of it--without many tools!

We left our guide to start our hike up Huayna Picchu around 10:45. We read online that climbing this mountain (the one you see in the background of that first picture) was a challenge. It is steep, with little-to-no safety railings, and can be slippery at times. I can, in fact, confirm those facts. It was strenuous! And, thankfully I'm not afraid of heights, but Dan is, and it got a little dicey at times.

Oh, also, did I mention at times you had to crawl through caves? That was extra special for my claustrophobic husband.

And then we had to do the same thing on the way down! But it really was a fun hike. It took us around 3.5 hours to do both ways. It was hard, but one of those things you feel really proud of yourself for doing afterward.

After the climb my legs felt like jello, but I knew we wanted to climb up to the Guard Tower to get the iconic view you see on all the post cards. It was hard, but so worth it! They had a bunch of llamas up top (strictly for tourism), including a baby llama. So cute!

It was a fantastic day that I won't soon forget. If you've got Machu Picchu on your bucket list--do it!

See our other stops in Peru:
Lima in Two Days
Getting to the Sacred Valley

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Getting to the Sacred Valley

After a beautiful day in Lima, we were off to explore the Sacred Valley. The easiest way to get there is by flying from Lima to Cusco on a quick hour and fifteen minute flight. There are some very early flights (starting at 6am), but we chose to leave just before ten, which still got us in around 11:15.

We were told that getting to the Lima airport is crazy and you need to allocate several hours for the traffic and security lines. It's true that the traffic is pretty bad, but the airport itself wasn't terrible. In fact, we got there pretty early and had enough time to book our Peru Rail tickets from Cusco to Aguas Calientes. Here's a tip: book your rail tickets early. We assumed we would just buy them when we got to Cusco because we weren't sure what time we wanted. We got lucky and had the last seats for the train we wanted. Tickets are expensive--we spent $380 for two round-trip tickets from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes--but it's just what you have to do.

From Cusco, we hired a taxi to take us straight to Ollantaytambo. Cusco is at 11,000+ feet above sea level, whereas Ollantaytambo is only at 9,000. Going further into the valley was a great way to get our bodies acclimated to the elevation.

The taxi ride took a couple of hours and was absolutely stunning! I couldn't get over the gorgeous, lush, green mountains. Our driver was a Cusco local and we had a really great conversation about his culture, Peruvian politics and American politics--all in Spanish! That was a first! He was great at pointing out things as we were going by, and even stopped by some alpacas so we could take a picture.

He dropped us off right in the center of Ollantaytambo where we grabbed a quick lunch with a view before heading to our train.

We opted for Peru Rail over Inca Rail mostly based on some online reviews we read and train time availability. It was a great choice. The train was beautiful and comfortable (and they served tea and snacks!). Mostly though, I loved how in the 90+ minute ride we saw multiple climates from desert to rain forest. It was truly incredible.

The train dropped us off in Aguas Calientes, an adorable town in the Sacred Valley. We stayed here for the night before heading to Machu Pichu the next day. I can't believe our luck. We were exploring the town in the evening and kept seeing different marching bands and dancers dressed in costume parading down the streets. We followed one band and found ourselves at the town square in front of the church celebrating La Fiesta de las Cruces (Festival of the Cross):
It is a ceremony in which each community decorates the cross of its church and prepares it for its procession to churches in neighboring communities. This celebration held in gratitude to pre-Hispanic gods for bountiful harvests, also serves as a setting for folklore shows. (source)

This holiday was clearly not for the tourists. All the locals were out dancing, singing, and parading. I love getting glimpses into the local culture like this.

Next up: Machu Pichu!

See our other stops in Peru:
Lima in Two Days
Machu Picchu

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Dear Zahara: 5 Years

Dear Zahara,

Happy fifth birthday! Next year you're off to kindergarten. It's hard to believe that the little baby we brought home from the hospital and carted all around Europe is already five. But then again, when I watch you, and listen to you, sometimes it's hard to believe you're only five.

Zahara, this has been a great year. You've matured right before our eyes. You're still you--meaning that your spirited personality and take-charge attitude lead they way--but you have also gained more empathy and patience. Don't get me wrong, we LOVE that you are strong-willed and don't take no for an answer. Sometimes we would just prefer that you focus that attention outward instead of just on us. Truly though, it's that determination that leaves me no doubt about whether you will succeed in life. You won't accept any other outcome than success.

You're not just strong opinions though, you're also really clever. You love learning--especially languages. You just finished your second year in Hebrew immersion school where you also took Spanish lessons, and your grandparents speak to you in Russian. Funny story: I got a call from the headmaster of your school asking if I wanted to put your Spanish lessons on our tab, or pay separately. I explained to her that we decided we weren't going to enroll in a second semester which is why we hadn't paid. She informed me that you took matters into your own hands two weeks prior and convinced both your regular teachers and the Spanish teacher that they were mistaken, and you were absolutely supposed to be attending the lessons. You were so convincing that the Headmaster just assumed I had forgotten to pay.

You're also doing well with the English language. You continue to devour as many books as we're willing to read you a day. I'm excited for this next year when I think you'll start reading on your own. You can already do a few sight words (go, no, stop, dog, cat, Zahara), but I think you'll pick it up in earnest this year. Then there will be no stopping you.

In addition to reading, you could spend all day doing arts and crafts. Mostly coloring with crayons or markers, but you're happy with glue, stickers, beads, or any other craft. It's your most requested gift item.

The biggest ways in which we've seen you mature are your empathy and patience. You're having fewer tantrums, each with a shorter duration--thank heavens! Don't get me wrong. You still throw down. But it's easier to get you to calm down. And you're less violent. Thanks! You're also a lot more patient with Asher and other friends who come to play. You are a great host and love showing people our house. You share really nicely, especially with younger kids. It makes me so proud to see that side of you.

Zahara, happy birthday! We love you oodles and oodles of noodles!

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Dear Asher: 23 Months

Dear Asher,

Happy 23 months! Oh my gosh, you're so cute! This is my favorite age. You're absolutely adorable, and your tantrums are completely manageable. Ha!

This month we had a great visit to Florida to see our family. You love your babushka, dedushka, and Aunt Amy. We did something new this trip and drove to the Everglades to see alligators and a bunch of other cool animals. You are really interested in bugs, which makes daddy happy. You even held a baby crocodile with me!

We also got to visit with Uncle Shlomo, Aunt Sara, and cousin Avi. You have a ton of energy, so getting you to sit still during a long dinner is hard, but you charmed all the dinner guests with your adorable smile.

Your language skills continue to develop. You are regularly using two, and sometimes three-word sentences. Your favorite words seem to be "napkin" (and "sticky" when your hands are dirty), "trash" (when you find items on the ground that need to be thrown away, e.g., food crumbs), and "bread."

This month we took you to a tea party with my co-workers. Zahara was in Florida still and it was just the three of us. I wanted to get a babysitter so daddy and I could go to this fancy party, but it was father's day so we couldn't find a sitter. Bringing you was so fun though! You were hilarious and it was such a pleasure showing you off to my colleagues.

I can't believe next month you'll be two! Keep being your adorable, amazing self. We love you to the moon and back!

Friday, June 1, 2018

June Thoughts by Z

Zahara is filled with amazing witticisms and insights. She says so many interesting things that it's hard to capture them all. Moving forward though, I'm going to post these thoughts less frequently. I'm thinking quarterly? Not sure yet. Feel free to share some of your favorite thoughts from Z, or your kids too!

Thought 1:
Dan putting on sunscreen.
Z (sarcastically): Hey daddy, is it Halloween? Don't make me ghostly. Rub the sunscreen in.

Thought 2:
Z:Daddy, what does this say?
D: Girls rule.
Z: Right. Because mummy and I have all the rules and you and Asher follow them.

Thought 3:
Z: I only want to marry Asher when I grow up because I can't find anyone else I want to marry.

See previous Thoughts by Z here

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Dear Asher: 22 Months

Dear Asher,

Happy 22-month birthday! Now that the weather is finally getting warmer, you get your wish and get to play outside a lot more these days. You can never seem to get enough. You are such an outdoor kid. Last weekend we were able to introduce you to the pool. It took some time for you to warm up to the idea of the water, but soon you were ready to dive in the deep end (while holding on to mommy and daddy, of course).

You can now play with kids your age, and even some older kids. We had friends over for Memorial Day weekend and one of the little girls told her mom (hi Dani!) that, "Asher is a big kid like me." Yeah you are, kid!

Things aren't all sunshine and roses though. You've started throwing and hitting toys, and often you aim for people's heads. We had to leave a mom's group event because you hit two of the kids.

Your vocabulary is growing by the day. You said "I love you" and will now say it regularly, when prompted (click to see embedded video). I'm not sure you really know what it means, but I love it. You also say all the letters of the alphabet after me, but sometimes when you don't feel like it, you'll add the word "no" in front of all the letters. Like, "No, A. No,B. No, C." You'll do that all the way through. It's really funny.

I don't want to jinx anything, but we may have dropped the bottle. You have been drinking from cups for a while, but for whatever reason, you decided that at home you only wanted milk out of a bottle. We were literally down to one bottle, and we constantly lived in fear of losing it. That picture at the pool was the last time you asked for it, so fingers crossed this sticks.

You're also a classic little brother. That is to say, you're a nudnik! You chase Zahara around and want to be doing whatever she is doing. She doesn't always love that, which only results in you trying even harder to be with her. It's mostly entertaining for us, and we're glad that you two really do love each other.

Happy 22-months, Ash! We love you!

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Lima in Two Days

When we were building our itinerary for Peru, we did a lot of research and asked a lot of friends how much time they recommended we spend in Lima. We got mixed answers, but the majority of folks said that if we had limited time, we should concentrate that time in the Sacred Valley. Lima, they said, is just a big city like most other big cities.

I think this advice was spot on; the Sacred Valley really was the highlight of our trip. However, there are some really great things to see and eat in Lima, and I'm glad we gave ourselves time to explore. Here are some of our highlights:

Did you know that the number five restaurant in the world is in Lima? Me either before this trip. Central, a restaurant that focuses on local Peruvian flavors is just one of a handful of phenomenal restaurants in town. Dan and I were lucky enough to score seats at Central, and I'll have a separate post about our ten-course meal!

La Mar
I loved everything about the food in Peru, but especially the ceviche (spelled cebiche in Peru); it's their national dish! My friend Jill recommended we visit the restaurant La Mar to try their cebiche, and I'm not kidding, it was the best I've ever had. It was so fresh and flavorful!

La Mar serves an appetizer of fried plantains and other root veggie chips along with three incredible sauces, and canchita, which are un-popped corn kernels. The canchita tasted like corn nuts--nice and salty. We also ordered a chicha morada, which is a non-alcoholic drink made from purple corn. It was really tasty.

The restaurant is colorful, and fun, and they have big signs telling you what's fresh that day. They aren't open for dinner and they don't take reservations, so get there a little before noon and you'll get in.

We liked this restaurant so much we went here twice! There can be a wait at times, so make a reservation if you can. Otherwise, you might be able wait in the bar while sipping a pisco sour.

What made this restaurant so great for us was two things: the bread and the veggies. Their trio of bread was perfection, especially paired with their sauces. And the veggie skewer was like magic. They imparted all the flavor of pollo a la brasa (rotisserie chicken) into these veggies. The spices were so intense and flavorful that Dan and I thought about it throughout our trip and made sure to get it one more time before heading to the airport.

Apparently Chinese food (called Chifa) is also really popular in Lima. We tried it. I'd recommend skipping it. It was just like American Chinese food but with a bit of a Peruvian flair. You're better off just sticking with Peruvian food.

Circuito Magico del Agua
This was a fun evening activity. I had no idea what to expect, but I should have known it would be cool based on the fact this water park holds a Guinness World record for largest fountain complex in a public park. Shows are at 7:15pm, 8:15pm, and 9:30pm and entrance is only 4 soles ($1.20). We went for the 7:15 show and there was a pretty good-sized crowd. I was really impressed by the water laser show as it told the history of Peru. I, of course, also loved the rainbow fountains.

We did a ton of walking in Lima! It's a great city in which to stroll. Some of my favorite areas were along the water in Miraflores (leading to the Larcomar shopping mall); the Kennedy park, which is famous for housing tons of stray cats; and downtown Lima with the gorgeous Plaza del Armas.

See our other stops in Peru:
Getting to the Sacred Valley
Machu Picchu