Sunday, June 25, 2017

Adventures in the Andes

Last week I told you a little about a tour into the Andes Mountains in Argentina that took us almost to the border with Chile.  This week I'll show you some of the other things we stopped to see on that drive.  We had hired a driver and guide to take us from our base in Mendoza into the mountains.  The above photo is of Puente del Inca (The Inca Bridge), a natural arch that has formed over the Vacas River.  It was formed by hot springs rich in sulfuric waters that have caused that sort of rust-like sediment.

At one time there was a spa and resort located here that was used for curing illnesses.  The remains of parts of the spa can be seen sort of fused into the mountain by the sediment and water from the spring.

Off in the distance I spotted this little church that looks like it might be still active today.

While we were stopped to see the natural bridge, I saw this mountain guide with his pack mules headed out.  I wondered if he was joining a climbing team who were going to attempt their own somewhat riskier Andes adventure.

Another stop we made was at the Andinistas Cemetery sometimes called the Climbers Cemetery.  

It is the final resting place for many mountain climbers, some who died trying to reach the top of Aconcagua, the tallest peak in both the southern and western hemisphere.  Other graves here were climbers who just wanted their final resting place to be here in this beautiful and remote location close to the mountain they loved. 

I do have to admit, the views from the cemetery were pretty spectacular.

In every direction we were surrounded by breathtaking vistas.  

The last stop before returning to Mendoza was to see the Uspallata Vaults which date from colonial times.  They are dome-shaped structures that were used at one time for melting gold and silver that was mined in the nearby mountains.  

The trip into the Andes Mountains was an adventure full of historical sightings but most of all sublime beauty in every direction!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Climbing Up Into the Andes

Aconcagua is the highest mountain in the both the Western and Southern hemispheres and for those die-hard mountain climbers, it's on their must-climb list.

My climb into the Andes was much simpler.  Along with my traveling companions, I made my way up to this view point by a comfortable van driven by a mountain guide.  Not being one of those mountain-climbing obsessed people, I preferred to view the mountain's majesty from a safe distance.  We were already at an altitude of nearly 12,000 feet, I didn't need to check the air at 22,838 feet.

Just past the stop to view Aconcagua, we entered the village of Las Cuevas, the last Argentinian city along Route 7 before entering the country of Chile.  We would have ventured the last few miles into Chile if the border had not been closed at the time.  Apparently there was a labor dispute with the border guards.

Whatever the reason for the closure, it was causing quite a back up of trucks waiting to cross the border with their goods.

Between 1910 and 1984,  the Transandio Railroad operated from here all the way to Las Andes in Chile.  In 1927, the railroad was electrified using Swiss built electronic locomotives.  Today the tracks are starting to crumble and the station is looking a little lost in time.

We stopped in Las Cuevas long enough to get a few snacks and enjoy some hot chocolate.  Our hosts seemed pleased to have the company for the short time we were there.

At 11,748 feet above sea level, you can imagine the extreme weather conditions this remote city experiences.  There are many occasions when the pass through the mountain is blocked by snow.  We were there in November toward the end of spring for the southern hemisphere.

Las Cuevas was a picturesque place with its steep roof lines framed by those grandiose mountains frosted with patches of snow.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

A Lesser Known Tuscan Village

After spending four days in some of the most famous Tuscon cities like Florence, Siena, San Gimignano and Cortona, my travel companions and I headed eastward on a swift moving super highway.  Off in the distance I spotted a hilltop village that rivaled the look of those other more famous villages that we had just come from.  A sign on the highway proclaimed the name of the village as Sinalunga and my friends and I made a quick decision to take a detour to check out this picturesque city at the top of a hill.

As we reached the top of the hill, we found a place to park the car near where the looming facade of Collegiate di San Marino anchored an open public square.  The church was appealing with it's yellow front and brick bell tower.

The narrow streets reminded me of Siena but, they were a lot less busy.  In fact, on our entire walk through the village we only passed one other person.

We found the city full of narrow passages and little open gaps with views out over the Tuscan countryside between the buildings.

Like Siena, Sinalunga is an Etruscan settlement but unlike the more famous town, little is known about it's past.

I loved all the arched doorways and the way the bricks peeked out from the crumbling stucco in the most charming way.

It was late in the afternoon and the lowering sun cast a golden-hour glow over some of the westward facing buildings.  It lit up this balcony with its summer-like warmth.

Visiting the popular villages in Tuscany has its rewards but, finding the equally beautiful places off the beaten path gives the "explorer" in me a much relished sense of accomplishment.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

A Glimpse Into London's Past

Like most visitors to London I always seemed to confine myself to the major museums and attractions on each visit however, on this last trip I decided I should visit some museums I had never been to before.  The Museum of London is one of those places.

The Museum of London documents the history of London from prehistoric times to present day.  It's located in the City of London, very close to the London Wall, that relic of Roman occupation dating back to the second century.  The museum itself is very 20th Century in design.  It was opened in 1976 as part of the Barbican Center, a cultural complex that many Londoner's love to hate.  The museum's pathways direct the visitor from prehistoric times to modern day.

Just outside the entrance to the museum stands a large sculpture by Christopher Le Brun called "Union, a Horse with Two Discs".

There are many Roman era artifacts on display showing just how influential and developed the Romans were when they settled in this area.

In one dimly lit room, there is an elaborate display of a Georgian Pleasure Garden.  It was full of mannequins dressed in colorful costumes depicting the people and entertainment that might be found in such gardens.

The Pleasure Gardens were magical places where city dwellers could escape from the dirt and grime and unpleasant smells of the city to a place where refreshments could be enjoyed while being entertained by exotic street performers.  It was a little escape from every day life.

A little further on I caught sight of a collection of jewelry worn by the peerage and aristocracy.  The Orders of Chivalry "jewels" were worn as a sure sign of status and recognition.

A few weeks ago I posted about Selfridges department store and it's colorful history.  The Museum of London is home to a beautiful art deco "lift" that was installed in the store in 1928 just in time for the store's 20th anniversary celebration.  Young women wearing distinctive uniforms were employed to operate the lifts taking shoppers from floor to floor.

The Lord Mayor's ceremonial coach was on display in one room.  This coach is used annually at the Lord Mayor's Show.  I got to see that show back in 2013 on a previous visit to London and indeed, this coach with the Lord Mayor in it was the center piece of the parade.

Because the coach is used today it is deemed the oldest ceremonial vehicle in regular use in the world.

Another room in the museum housed a display that was closer to the present day.  It was display of the 2012 Olympic cauldron designed by Thomas Heatherwick.

Every single copper cauldron piece is different.  Each was shaped by hand and some took days to make.

The display showed it standing tall and.....

.....fully opened.  The design of the cauldron is described as one of the best kept secrets of the opening ceremony.  Along with the cauldron, there were several video's playing so I could see it as it looked in it's glory days.

I found these dapper gentlemen wandering around the museum gift shop.  They are members of the Pearly Kings and Queens, an organization dating back to 1875.  It is a charitable organization of working class culture in London.

Don't these gentlemen look magical in their pearl button laden suits?

As I was leaving the museum I saw this rather interesting sculpted plaque located in a sort of garden courtyard.  I couldn't quite figure out what it was supposed to be depicting so I had to do a little research about it.
I learned that it supposedly commemorates the Bull and Mouth Inn which was demolished in 1830 to make way for the Queen's Hotel which in turn was demolished in 1888.  The face eating the bull is said to represent Milo of Croton, a Greek wrestler who rumor says carried a bull on his shoulders.

That is one piece of historic art that has a meaning which remains deeply buried in the folds of time.