Saturday, August 13, 2011

Peru – Lima, back-tracking... briefly

Now we're talking. Finally, a
comfortable overnight bus!
Arriving in a luxury overnight bus (Cruz del Sur, Cruzero Suite) makes a world of a difference, we were comfortably warm, slept well, and are fit enough to spend the day exploring, sin siesta.
Although our "program" is not too strenuous as it mainly revolves around one critical theme: food.

We were looking forward to go to this Italian restaurant called Blue Moon, which we had pegged in June (on our initial arrival) as our all important must-do. We also had wanted to visit Astrid & Gastón's famous restaurant but getting a reservation is tough and it's already been found by foreign visitors. Blue Moon is truly an insider tip that we are now sharing with you all!

Julane, the Artist at work
So now I'm sure you want some details. First, don't read this if you are hungry. Let's start with the décor (while you grab a snack to temper your hunger). It's one of those intimate places with a maze of small rooms offering romantic privacy. Every inch of this place is chocked full of knick-knacks related to food and drink. The ceiling is constructed with wine bottle inserted into the beams. We noticed that they were full and had dates going back to the 70's just above our heads. Below the ceiling are built-in shelving that contain liquor and beer bottles from around the globe... we even find an old bottle of Tiger beer.

Salami paradise
Hope you like scallops

Okay now back to the food...we indulge in one of the best Italian buffet spreads that we ever had anywhere. The antipasti section alone was worth going back for seconds and thirds. The food presentation is gorgeous with description cards in Spanish.
Patrick's favorite section
Salami, air dried cured meat, jamón ibérico, prosciutto, wild boar salami...and many others. Then about a dozen types of cheese and olives and mushrooms (stuffed, baked and pickled). Other cold antipastos were a variety of marinated fish, Ceviche, seafood combinations (at least a dozen platters to choose from!)

This one was easy to figure
out what it was originally!
And now let's move over to the mains. They included all kinds of meat from pheasant to rabbit and even hare. Yes, where you find that offered at a buffet? There were about 15 meat choices from wild game to suckling pig plus all the other regular kinds of meat made an appearance too. Dessert was small in comparison...with fresh fruit, cakes, pies, and even chocolate pralines. Patrick was also amazed to see the "zuppa inglese" a traditional (but little known) Italian desert that his mother used to make.

After lunch digestive activity
We spent nearly 3 hours nibbling on as many dishes as our stomachs could handle. We are definitely tipping the weight scale to the right today! But we walked here and back to our hostel which took about 30 minutes through a posh neighborhood. With all that food, we call it a night early and enjoy the comfort of our hostel. This is the kind of day that mends all the aches and discomforts...and feeds the soul. It might even be what some people call a holiday or vacation.

Lima's historic center
This visit to Lima is only for one night but we get two full days out of the stopover as we have another night bus booked to bring us up north. That leaves us the second day to explore the colonial city center. We join the free Lima walking tour This is a great concept that exists in a number of cities around the world: the tour is free, and if you like it, you give a tip to the guide – kind of "try before you buy" concept.

The tour last 90 minutes and takes us to the most important sights in Lima's historic center, our guide is full of information about historic and current events. She focuses on the colonial rampage of Peru especially Pizarro's pillage and sacking of the great Incan empire. Apparently, he arrived at the perfect window in time to accomplish this task. He managed to conquer one of the great civilizations ever just as it was in a power struggle. Talk about timing. His main concern was gold and silver though which the Spaniards carried back in their galleons to Europe. Since our guide in Machu Picchu talked about the Incan rise and fall, it was appropriate to hear about the Spanish rise and fall here in Lima. With our new knowledge, we continued to explore the interesting center which is rich in colonial structures but considered less safe and definitely not a posh neighborhood. There is a huge tourist police presence though and we felt entirely safe.
Changing of the Guards in front of
the Presidential Palace
Plaza Mayor

Convento de San Francisco
Our next tour was a trip inside the Convento de San Francisco which is also home to the famous catacombs. The entrance includes (actually requires) a guide and is well worth the 7 Soles ($3.20). We are especially impressed by the library and the catacombs. The 17th-century library is straight out of a Harry Potter film. Everything is musty and falling to ruin in this open environment. There are 20,000 books which are centuries old and unprotected. But it is authentic!

Harry Potter's library?
The catacombs... we managed
to sneak a picture :-)

Afterwards, we descent into the more interestingly eerie part of the monastery: the catacombs. There are tunnels (of unknown levels) which house the bones of 75,000 people. In one section, we see a round cavity with carefully and decoratively laid out skulls and femurs.

Working for her church...
Is she selling a holy "drinking" water?
Keeping Lima clean... sometimes!

This is it for Lima, we are off to new territory now: The north of Peru. Next stop: Trujillo...
We travel in style again using the Cruzero Suite overnight bus: good night!