A Tribute to Notre-Dame

I had the wonderful opportunity to visit Paris, France in March 2018. One of Paris’s most iconic landmarks is Notre-Dame. Sadly yesterday, on April 15th 2019 Notre Dame caught on fire, presumably from the construction activity that was taking place. I wanted to take this time to showcase the beauty of this wonderful building in its former glory and dive into the history of the cathedral.

The construction of Notre-Dame started in 1163 and wasn’t completed until 1345, a whole 182 years later! The cathedral is sacred to the Virgin Mary and was considered to be one of the first examples of French Gothic architecture style. The construction of the cathedral utilized an innovated technique of rib vault and flying buttresses to support the roof. This would later on lead to the quick spreading of the fire as the majority of the roof was constructed of wood. The cathedral featured beautiful rose windows and a beautifully sculpted interior.

Construction was started under guidance of Bishop Maurice de Sully and was completed in its first iteration in 1345. In the 1790’s Notre-Dame suffered from vandalism and neglect during the French Revolution, with much of its religious imagery being damaged or destroyed.

In the 1800’s several events occurred; the cathedral was the site of the Coronation of Napoleon I as Emperor of France, the baptism of Henri, Count of Chambord, and the funerals of several presidents of the Third French Republic. The cathedral became famous in 1831 when Victor Hugo’s novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame was published. A major restoration project occurred between 1844 and 1864. In 1963 the façade of the cathedral was cleaned, returning it to its former glory. Another cleaning and restoration project was carried out between 1991 and 2000.

After the fire occurred the French president Emmanuel Macron stated that Notre-Dame would be rebuild. The billionaires behind luxury giants LVMH Group, Kering and L’Oreal have pledged a combined total of over $550 million towards the resurrection of the beautiful Notre-Dame, and the Pinault family has pledged over $110 million as well.

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Chile – Day 9 – Calama & Antafagasta

Today we woke up at 7:30am. I was starting to feel a bit better today already because of the decongestant medication. We had the complimentary buffet breakfast and set off towards the coastal town of Antafagasta, about a 2.5 hour drive west from Calama.

Something we both noted on the drive to Antafagasta was the great conditions of the highway and the fast driving speed of 120 kph that was allowed. About 2/3 of the way to Antafagasta we came across a toll that cost 1850 Chilean peso’s ($3.70). This is where they’re getting some of the money for the high quality highway.

On the way to Antafagasta we stopped at the Hand of the Desert, a giant sculpture of a hand emerging from the desert sand. The iron and concrete sculpture was constructed by the Chilean sculptor Mario Irarrázabal in 1992. It’s exaggerated size is said to emphasize human vulnerability and helplessness. We took some photos and continued on our way to Antafagasta. Upon arriving in Antafagasta we stopped at Don Taco for some lunch. I had spicy chicken taco’s and C had chicken fajita’s. We both agreed that this was some of the best Mexican food that we’ve ever had.

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After eating lunch we drove to the Huanchaca Ruins Museum where we explored the ruins of a refinery that was built in 1888 and closed in 1902. The refinery resembles something of a castle. The refinery would process about 100 tons of mineral per day, out of which almost 20 tons of silver were extracted each month and send to various destinations around the globe.

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After exploring the ruins we walked along the beach and boardwalk before driving back to Calama. On our way back into Calama we stopped at the grocery store and got some tortilla chips, an avocado, a tomato, and Stella beer for dinner. We made guacamole and drank beer while watching the other half of the movie we started the previous night. We ended up going to bed around 11:00pm because we had to get up relatively early for a mid morning flight, and I wanted to give myself ample time to return the rental car because it was such an ordeal to get it a few days prior.

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Chile – Day 8 – Anita & Chacabuco Ghost Towns

Today I woke up at 6:45am coughing uncontrollably. My cold was definitely getting worse. C was still sleeping and I let her sleep until 8:00am and then woke her up. We had the complimentary buffet breakfast in the hotel and then set off to explore.

Today we visited a very famous Chilean ghost town near Calama called Chacabuco. On the drive out to Chacabuco we came across another ghost town called Anita. Anita was an abandoned Nitrate or “Saltpeter” town that was founded in 1902 and abandoned in 1912. The town fell into quick disarray and is not that well preserved. Vandalism covers most of the Anita property. Our next stop was Chacabuco; the main highlight of the day.

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Chacabuco is an abandoned Nitrate or “Saltpeter” town that was founded in 1924 by the Lautaro Nitrate Company and soon fell into ruin as the nitrate mining boom in Chile came to an abrupt end in the 1930’s The Germans had invented synthetic nitrate and by the end of the 1930’s most of Chile’s nitrate industry came to and end. At one point in time nitrate provided 50% of Chile’s GDP. Chacabuco finally shut its doors in 1938, where it remained closed until 1973. In 1973 things took a dark twist and the town was reopened as a concentration camp during the Pinochet regime in 1973. Chile was under a Military dictatorship from 1973-1990.

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I was really starting to struggle with my cold so we drove back to Calama and went to a pharmacy to get some decongestant medicine. We spent the late afternoon resting before venturing out for some delicious corn and egg pizza from La Pizzata; yes you read that correctly it was corn and egg.

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After pizza we walked back to the hotel and watched half of a movie before going to bed.

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Chile – Day 7 – Calama & Alto Loa National Reserve

Today we woke up at 7:00am and had some delicious complementary breakfast, probably the best we had on the trip to date. We checked out of the hotel and started a 3 hour drive towards Alto Loa National Reserve. On the way to the reserve we stopped at Lasana and visited some prehistoric ruins that overlooked the valley. The ruins date back to the 12th century. On our way back to walking to the car we noticed a young local girl trying to break into our rental car. I hit the panic button and she casually backed away but still sat on a wall near the car. When I approached the car to get in she still stayed there. C had to go to the washroom so she went and the girl followed her in there. When C was coming back to the car the girl was talking to her loudly in Spanish demanding Pesos. C got in the car and I backed out and started to drive off when we noticed the girl get on her phone. About two minutes down the road there was a woman (probably the girls mother) who was on the phone and standing in the middle of the road demanding that we pull over. I drove around her quite quickly and sped off into the distance. We deduced that they were trying to either steal from tourists or demand compensation for the “free” ruins.

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We continued our journey towards Alto Loa was created 14 years ago in 2005 and is Chile’s largest reserve. The park is full of mountains, hills, flamingo’s, and guanacos (llama’s). An interesting fact about Guanacos is that they can live in some of the most hostile environments on earth, some living in areas where it has not rained for over 50 years. fog that condenses to water droplets on cacti and lichens that cling to the cacti. The lichens soak it up like a sponge, which are then eaten by the Guanacos.

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We checked into our hotel; Geotel Calama and were welcomed with a pisco sour and mango sour as welcome drinks, which were delicious and quite strong. The hotel was well appointed and even had a small kitchen so that we could prepare and cook food. After checking in we went to the nearby Lider (Walmart) to get food for dinner and for tomorrow. Dinner was simple; we made mushroom soup. After dinner I still wasn’t feeling great so I had a bath and listened to podcasts. After my bath it was time to go to bed. The bed ended up being extremely terrible for a brand new hotel… it felt like a broken mattress that transferred movement very easily.

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Chile – Day 4 – Valparaiso & Vin Del Mar

Today we decided to sleep in a bit until 8am. We ended up having a buffet breakfast down in the lobby of the hotel since it was only $9 and included coffee. After breakfast we got ready and started walking along the waterfront to Vin Del Mar. The waterfront was very relaxing and was a mix of a modern reconstructed boardwalk and old decaying train depot buildings with abandoned trains along the side. We noticed a ton of homeless dogs and with a quick Google search we determined that there are an estimated 2.5 million stray dogs in Chile and the canine population is growing faster than the human population. A sobering statistics is that with 17 million Chilean’s; the canine population is slated to surpass the human population in as soon as 6-10 years. Something needs to be done about this.

Half way to Vina Del Mar we came to Portales, where there was a small beach with some food booths setup. We were not quite yet hungry so we decided that we would come back here later on. At this point in time it would have been nice to walk along the waterfront more but I had drank way too much water and needed to find a bathroom.

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We boarded the train to Vina Del Mar and found a Starbucks to go to the bathroom and we ordered some Frappuccino’s. Catherine had Java Chip Frappuccino and I had a half sweet Cookies & Cream Frappuccino. I was starting to run low on money so we stopped in at the bank and picked up some more money before continuing our walk along the waterfront. The beach in Vin Del Mar was very beautiful and packed full of people, including some people fishing from the boardwalk. After walking along the beach we explored the city of Vina del Mar. We saw a flower clock that had real moving hands, a magician that appeared to be floating, a castle, and an old Palace.

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After exploring Vina Del Mar we took the train back to Portales, where we both got delicious freshly made empanadas for only $4 each, which is about double the going rate they were in Santiago, but this is more of a touristy area. I had pulled beef, chorizo, mushrooms and cheese; while Catherine had chicken, mushrooms and cheese. After eating our food we took the train back to the hotel, where we relaxed for a few hours before venturing out back into the cerro’s of Valparaiso.

We head back out at 6:00pm to explore the cerro of Artilleria. This was definitely one of the more dodgy areas of town and has a rating of “orange” on the scale of neighbor safety. The scale includes the colours from Red, Orange, Yellow and Green; with red being the least safe to green being the safest. I’m glad we visited it though because it was quite the unique community with beautiful views of the port and entire city, as well as some unique art. While we were up in the community we met this family that was visiting from Montreal. The dad was originally from Valparaiso and moved away when he was only 12 years old. This was his first time visiting since he moved away. He told us that practically nothing has changed since he was a child, but they were trying to do a better job of preserving some buildings and the funiculars.

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Chile – Day 2 – Santiago

Today we woke up at 7:00am. We got ready fairly quickly and then walked to a nearby Starbucks. I had a regular drip coffee and C had a Chai Tea Latte. We then walked back to Santa Lucia Hill and explored the hill. Santa Lucia Hill sits on top of a volcano that last erupted an estimated 15 million years ago. On top of the hill is a beautiful park, chapel, and Fort Hidalgo. Fort Hidalgo was recently restored and reopened to the public and traditionally a cannon shot is fired at exactly noon.

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After exploring Santa Lucia Hill we walked over to Plaza De Armas. Plaza De Armas is the main square of Santiago. It is the centerpiece of the initial layout of Santiago and the square grid pattern of the city was laid out from here. Santiago (officially known as Santiago de Chile) was originally founded in 1541 by the Spanish conqueror Pedro de Valdivia. Santiago has a population of 6.3 million people and is home to 40% of the entire population of Chile.

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Right across from Plaza De Armas is Cathedral Metropolitana de Santiago which took 52 years to build and was first opened in 1800. Previous cathedrals stood in its spot but were destroyed by earthquakes. Chile is known to have some of the world’s largest earthquakes in recorded history, with the largest being the 9.5 magnitude earthquake on May 22, 1960 near Valdivia, Chile. That particular earthquake left 2 million Chileans homeless, killed approximately 6000 Chileans, and created Tsunami’s that reached as far as Honshu, Japan. The 18 foot high waves reached Honshu about 22 hours after the earthquake and left 1600 homes destroyed and killed 185 people.

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After visiting the beautiful Cathedral Metropolitana de Santiago we walked through the nearby Central Market and over to Centro Cultural Estacion Mapocho, which was a former railway station (built in 1913) that was converted to a cultural center/musuem. The beautiful semi-restored train station is built in Art Nouveau style architecture, which is some of my favorite architecture, alongside Art Deco and Mid-Century Modern. You can refer back to my France blog posts, among others to see some other beautiful Art Nouveau and Art Deco architecture.

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We continued exploring the area and came across a hip modern area called Eurocentro, and narrowly avoided a protest in front of the University of Chile. There were about 30-40 armed military personnel with riot shields ready to pounce if things got out of control.

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After that we took the Yellow Metro line from Santa Ana station to Departamental station. Santiago is home to one of my favorite style of Metro systems; the rubber-tyred Metro. There are only about 25 systems like these in the world and I’ve been on about 1/4 of them. The rubber-tyred Metro was first applied to the Paris Metro in 1951, and is also used in Montreal, Canada. The benefits are better grip, quieter, and a better ride.

After exiting Departamental station we walked to the nearby community of San Miguel, which is a rundown lower income community with many tenement buildings. The appeal of this community to us was the huge open street market and the massive murals on the sides of the tenement buildings.

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We were getting hungry and were in search of Arepas, which is a Venezuelan & Columbian food that is fairly popular to Chile as well. Arepas is made of ground maize dough and is cut in half and stuffed with cheese, meat, tomatoes, etc. You can have it in many different styles. We took the Metro and walked to numerous places on google maps that supposedly sold Arepas, but sadly they were closed or didn’t sell them. We settled on some amazing freshly made pizza at a nearby restaurant. We ordered a Neapolitan style pizza, which absolutely delicious.

After eating we explored the rustic community of Varrio Italia, before walking back to the hotel and calling it a night. Originally we were supposed to stay one additional day in Santiago but we opted to go to Valparaiso a day early starting tomorrow.

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Revisiting Peru

In 2014 I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the beautiful country of Peru with my father. I have quite a few friends visiting Peru in 2019/2020 so I figured I’d write a blog post describing my travels from what I can remember. I’ll explain via Q&A format as that’s probably the most palatable format for most people.

Do I Need a VISA?

If you’re visiting from Canada or the USA then you do not require a VISA.

How Long Should I Go For?

I recommend 10-14 days for a first time visit. We went for 10 days and it felt like the right amount of time, although some people may find that rushed. My father and I are go-go-go people so 10 days felt perfect.

What Vaccinations Should I Get?

There are no mandatory vaccines required for entry into Peru, but its recommended that you get Hepatitis A & B, and Yellow Fever (depending on the area of travel). I only had Hepatitis A & B when I travelled. I also recommend you bring Dukoral because I was the unfortunate victim to “muddy butt” (self explanatory) on the last day of my travels because we ate at a local restaurant that had food that came in contact with contaminated water. Let’s just say I had a very unpleasant week after that…

How Do You Get To Peru From Calgary?

The easiest way to get to Lima, Peru from Calgary is one of two ways:

  • Calgary to Lima via Houston on United Airlines. Typical costs range around $1000-1200 for economy class.
  • Calgary to Lima via Dallas on American Airlines. This is the route choice that we chose. Typical costs range around $1000-1200 for economy class but business class tickets can be had for as little as $1200 in our case if you hunt around. South America is an anomaly for cheap business class tickets for some reason; sometimes business class tickets can be had for the same price, if not cheaper due to lack of demand. Remember the more open seats the cheaper the airfare is; once seats fill up the prices usually start to increase.

Once you get to Lima you’re more than likely going to want to head to Cuzco, which is operated by LATAM. LATAM is a Chilean holding company that operates the largest airline and subsidiaries in South America. LATAM operates in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, and Peru.

What Is The Weather Like?

In general Peru is pretty mild year round. I found Lima to be muggy in mid June despite it’s mild low to mid 20°C temperatures. Cusco and the Sacred Valley (including Machu Picchu) I found to be t-shirt weather during the day, and sweater weather at night. In fact some evenings in the Sacred Valley approached near 0°C at night!

What Should You Visit In Peru?

First time visitors will definitely want to head to the following locations (all followed with pictures)

  • Cusco
    • Cusco is a city in southeastern peru, near the Urubamba Valley of the Andes mountain range. The city has a population of just under 500,000 people and is located at an elevation of 11200 feet (3400 metres). I highly recommend bringing some altitude sickness pills if you suffer from altitude sickness. I don’t usually get hypoxia or altitude sickness so I did not require these pills. Cusco was the historic capitcal of the Incan Empire from the 13th to 16th century Spanish conquest. Cusco was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983, and it definitely is deserving of this heritage title as there are manly beautiful architecturally significant sites around the city. I highly recommend exploring the local markets.

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  • Machu Picchu
    • Machu Picchu is an Incan citadel set high in the Andes Mountains in Peru, above the Urubamba River valley. This is the main attraction in Peru. Machu Picchu was built in the 15th century and later abandoned. It’s renowned for its sophisticated dry-stone walls that fuse huge blocks without the use of mortar, intriguing buildings that play on astronomical alignments and panoramic views.
    • To get to Machu Picchu we took the “Sacred Valley” PeruRail train from Urubamba to the base of Machu Picchu, where we boarded a tour coach to take us to the top of Machu Picchu.
    • When at the base of Machu Picchu I highly recommend exploring the base city as its filled with amazing markets, affordable accommodation and great food.

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  • Urubamba
    • Urubamba is the largest town in the Sacred Valley region of southeastern Peru. It is a busy transportation hub and sits on the Urubamba River, surrounded by rugged mountains. There is a popular market selling fresh fruit and vegetables and also pots, pans, and other essential items. The market does not really cater to tourists, but we chose to explore it anyways. We aware of people wanting money for taking photographs. I managed to get a picture of a badass Llama wearing sunshades!

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  • Sacsayhuaman (pronounced Sexy Woman… I’m not kidding)
    • Sacsayhuaman is a citadel on the northern outskirts of the city of Cusco, Peru, the historic capital of the Inca Empire.

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  • Maras
    • Maras is a town near the city of Cusco in the Sacred Valley of southeastern Peru. It’s known for the Maras Salt Mines, thousands of individual salt pools on a hillside, dating back to Incan times. West of the town is Moray, an Inca archaeological site on a high plateau featuring a series of concentric terraces.

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