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Peru Archives

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Supreme Court of Peru, Palacio de Justicia, Lima, Peru
Address: Miguel Aljovin, Lima, Peru, by Estacion Central subway (Map)

Unlike our Ecuadorian adventure, our visit to the Supreme Court of Peru didn't feature any impromptu meetings with publicity officers. Our cab driver didn't know the way to the Supreme Court--and wondered why two foreigners wanted to go there--but he did know the Sheraton Lima, which faces right across the park from the fantastic Palacio de Justicia, and we could guide him from there.

Thus, we emerged into a sunny afternoon in front of a grand neoclassical structure that takes up most of a city block and houses the upper levels of the Peruvian judiciary. According to Wikipedia, the Peruvians modeled the building off of the law courts of Brussels, and the building does have a very heavy, European feel. Foolishly, I tried to walk up the steps to the front entrance, only to be rebuffed by a uniformed clerk who insisted that if we wanted to enter, we needed to go in the side door.

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The Palacio de Justicia, at night

There are no signs advising where to go as a "visitor," although there is a public entrance on the north side of the building. Unlike the grand facade, these doors are more pedestrian steel affairs, and a small crowd of litigants, attorneys and document carriers milled around waiting for admission to begin at two o'clock. We were in no hurry, and so wandered in a complete circuit around the building. To the northwest, a dirty park sat forlornly across the street from a few cantinas. Surrounding the Palacio on the west and south are the offices of government and private attorneys, both of whom were privileged to use entrances limited only to officialdom. The private offices to the south are a particularly interesting mix. Some bore clean, polished bronze plaques announcing the name of the lawyers within, while the windows of other offices were festooned with dot-matrix banners annoucing "ABOGADO" in faded grey letters.

The public doors still hadn't opened when we made it back to the public entrance, so we made our way northeast up Azangaro street. Here the shops are most definitely lawyer-focused: I have not seen so many places to buy highlighters, binders, binder clips, printing services or other paper-based products in my life. Mixed amidst these are a number of cheap coffee and sandwich shops, where it would be hard to pay more than five dollars for lunch.

Feeling well fed on ham sandwiches, we returned to find that the public doors had opened in our absence. The crowd was now slightly larger, but also slowly making its way past security. A few attorneys (or perhaps employees of attorneys), sweating in the sun outside the door in navy blue wool suits, approached us to ask if we needed counsel. They were skeptical that the guards would let us in as tourists, but we actually didn't have much trouble. This may be because the guard asked if we were attorneys, we said "yes," and he let us by without inquiring further as to our business.

I recently received a request for a photograph of myself, and was left scratching my head. I actually do have an electronic album of my few decent photos, but that album is on a hard drive in storage somewhere in suburban New York. All I have with me are photos from this trip.

Instead of weeding through several thousand photographs looking for a presentable image, I decided to cheat by relying on Picasa's facial recognition technology. I left the program running overnight and returned the next morning, coffee in hand, to the somewhat tedious task of identifying four thousand or so faces that Picasa had picked out of our photos.

Most of these faces belonged to innocent bystanders, and could be set aside easily. There were a few photos of me, a few more of Pallavi, and several of friends and travel companions whom we've met along the road. In the end, I found a couple of pictures that didn't make me look like a deranged lunatic with a bad haircut. But Picasa also picked out the faces of two individuals who we'd photographed in several countries, and yet weren't friends or family.

It's not surprising that we have multiple pictures of President Obama, whether in a cafe in Ecuador;


or on a campaign poster in Peru.

But while the President may get a bit of exposure, he's a virtual nonentity in comparison to the man who has followed our footsteps on every continent, in virtually every country: Che Guevara. 

Our last weekend in Cuzco we took a bus to Pisac, a town in the Sacred Valley of the Incas famed for its Sunday market. We had seen the town a week earlier from a very different vantage point, looking down across the river while trekking on the way to Huchuy Cusquo. The plan was simple: bus the hour or so from Cuzco to Pisac, drop our bags at a hotel, and take a taxi to the top of the ruins for a leisurely walk down.

It didn't quite work out that way. Even though we'd been in the highlands for weeks, the rickety-swerving bus managed to make us motion sick, and by the time we'd rested, eaten and managed to find Hospidaje Kinsa Ccocha, it was getting towards late afternoon. Negotiations with a taxi took a bit more time, as did buying our ticket, and we reached the summit with only a few hours of light left.

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A few hours later, we were making our way down in the dark.

We haven't blogged much about our various visits to Incan ruins. Built primarily with corv�e labour, these enormous constructions of stone are all that remain of the great Incan cities after centuries of Spanish conquest, extensive robbery of antiquities and the unrelenting passage of time. While neither as spectacular in architecture as Huchuy Cusquo, nor as famous as Macchu Pichu, the ruins of the Incan citadel are well worth the hike downhill.

Pisac: a walk through dark places

With certain exceptions, our travel style involves cheap and cheerful hostels, cozy apartments and hotels at the inexpensive end of the scale. (Our Tripadvisor reviews tend to be biased toward our more expensive experiences, as I haven't reviewed many of the cheaper places.) Yet we've wandered through a few fairly nice hotels, either because they were attractions in themselves or out of pure curiousity. In the unlikely event that I one day try to re-experience this trip with a budget two orders of magnitude greater, these are the places that I'd love to book.

I should note that these are not necessarily the nicest hotels that we know of in any given city, but the best that we've seen on this trip. For example, if I could stay for free at any hotel in London, I'd rather see what the Savoy is like than the Metropolitan. On the other hand, I don't think I've ever been amazed by any hotel so much as I was by the Taj Falaknuma in Hyderabad, where you can quite literally sleep like a prince. For reference, I've included some prices of the nicer, lottery-winner level rooms.

La Mamounia, Marrakech, Morocco (Churchill Suite, ~$2,200/night): Located near the medina (and only a few blocks away from our current apartment), La Mamounia looks less Moroccan and more European than its website suggests. Wandering through its halls, the colonial influence is easy to discern, but this is classic colonial, not a cookie-cutter continenal hotel. In the evening, when the hurrying throngs have whipped up enough dust in the market to inspire previously unknown allergies, La Mamounia is a clear, quiet and clean oasis. We dropped by to try a drink at the Churchill Bar, which was both overpriced and somewhat disappointing: despite displaying several nicer brands of alcohol, a Manhattan with a price tag over $20 was mixed with Four Roses. Setting aside the mediocre drinks, the Churchill and Italian bars are both elegant and comfortable, and I was impressed by the attentiveness and professionalism of the staff. If you're looking for a "low-cost" way to enjoy this location, the Sunday brunch is only about $150. If you try it, tell me how it goes. (That said, we encountered a first for a high-class hotel on this trip: free wifi in public areas.)

The Metropolitan, London, England (Park Suite, ~$1,000): We stopped for a drink at the sister of the Bangkok Metropolitan after picking up our Tanzanian visas from the nearby embassy. Far from the most extravagant hotel in Mayfair, let alone London, it nonetheless has a top-class bar which continues the Metropolitan tradition of knowledgeable and skilled bartenders. Worth it just for a tipple.

The Taj Falaknuma Palace, Hyderabad, India (Grand Presidential Suite, price on request, upwards of $4,350): Pity Nawab Vikar-ul-Umra, who had this palace built in the shape of a scorpion (for astrological reasons), only to realize that he had gone over budget. He ended up giving the palace to Nizam VI, the then-ruler of Hyderabad. The Nizam thoughtfully gave Vikar-ul-Umra the entire amount spent on its construction, saving him from financial catastrophe.

Taj Hotels have leased the palace and converted it into an extravagant fantasy. When we dined here one evening at a family gathering, we were able to watch as one of the guests arrived. A horse-drawn carriage drove him from the gates to the front courtyard. At this point an employee--although courtier seems more accurate--hoisted a gold mace and escorted the new tenant as if he were royalty up the marble steps to reception, as another attendant dropped rose petals before him from an upper balcony. Kitschy, yes, and perhaps they only do this for certain guests, but it fits with the setting. The Grand Presidential Suite, "once the sanctum sanctorum of the Nizam himself," is the most opulent option in a hotel filled with extravagant choices, and features a private pool.


Photo by friends J & J

The Oberoi, Agra, India (Kohinoor Suite, ~$5500): The bar at the Oberoi possesses a unique alchemical secret: it can transform the most staid and ordinary cocktail into one of the best of your life. The Manhattan recipe? Take a standard combination of rye, vermouth and bitters, and serve suffused with scarlet light filtered through tall, ornate windows that frame the sunset-pinked marble of the Taj Mahal. The Oberoi's view of Agra's unquestioned wonder of the world must be seen to be believed, and only hotel guests are allowed to have their drinks served on the balcony.

Unlike La Mamounia, the Oberoi's style speaks more to Agra's mughal heritage than colonial refinement, lightly reminding the visitor that he is elsewhere rather than giving hints of the comforts of home. We didn't get much further than the bar and the opulent lobby, itself an orgy of marble and stone, but supposedly each room has its own view of the Taj Mahal.

Here are a few pictures of strange and interesting signs that haven't really fit in any other entry.

An election poster, Lima, Peru (September 25, 2010):

Forgive my cynicism, but I somehow doubt that President Obama actually endorsed Dr. Davila.

A good deal of law, American or otherwise, concerns separation and division: partnerships dissolve and assets must be allocated, or marriages end in divorce and property must be divided. Modern American law has any number of mechanisms for the allocation of property between disputing parties.

The latter day descendants of the Uros people, who live (more or less) on Lake Titicaca, have developed a unique method of dealing with intra-clan disputes. The Uros constructed a network of artificial floating islands on the part of the lake near modern-day Puno, building reed huts atop a base of more reed and clay. The island that we visited measured approximately seventy by thirty feet and held about six reed huts and as many families.

Our guide described the Uros method of dispute resolution. If the clan living on the island found itself unable to resolve its internal differences, the clan would shift the huts of contending parties to opposite sides of the island, and then the clansmen would use a very large saw to cut the island itself in two. Both sides were then free to drift away from each other and start anew. As mediation goes, I suppose it does cut down on legal fees.

Floating Village

Our approach to the floating village

But I am getting ahead of myself....

Travel broadens the mind, but not necessarily in the ways that you expect. You can walk through centuries-old ruins and come away with nothing more than a respect for stone masonry and gratitude that Thomas Friedman has fallen in love with modern China and not ancient Peru. [1] On the other hand, the ordinary course of daily life will grant plenty of sudden insights through smaller lessons. For instance, never stay in a hostel with a cat that looks like Garfield, for fat cats do not mouse.

Traveling has made me fascinated by humanity's seemingly limitless ingenuity when it comes to the provisions of running water, particularly hot water. Although several of our hotels or hostels have had standard centralized hot water heaters, others have been quite creative. For instance, our first night at Los Ninos in Cuzco (the night after the the rat incident), we contacted the front desk and told them there was no hot water in our room. Quickly thereafter, a short handyman in paint-flecked overalls showed up at our door, followed by the receptionist. The receptionist and I boosted the handyman into a tiny crawlspace above the bathroom, and there followed a few minutes of his shifting about culminating in the loud, unmistakable click of a circuit-breaker being thrown. Apparently each room had its own hot water heater, hidden out of sight. Once I realized this, I started looking in other hostels, and realized that in Cuzco this sort of set up is not uncommon.

We've encountered a variety of different plumbing systems so far. Hospedaje Kinsa Cocha features wood-heated showers. When we have stayed with local families (at Huchuy Cusco or Puno), there has either been no hot water or no running water at all. [2] While making our way around Lake Titicaca, I noticed that some of the most prosperous of the small houses had large, bright metal drums perched on their roofs, presumably to warm water through sunlight.

Our Buenos Aires apartment has introduced me to the concept of the tankless hot water heater. Instead of pre-heating water, a gas burner provides hot water on demand, with a "maximum" temperature set on the heater. I can't believe that these systems are efficient: although they allow the luxury of tremendously long showers, they seem to use a lot of gas. The downside is that the heaters are triggered by pressure, which means that a certain volume of hot water must be demanded before they kick in. This makes shaving--which requires a low volume of warm water--quite tricky, as the temperature will tend to switch between boiling and freezing.

While I did my share of tinkering and DIY when I lived in New York, my projects were always utilitarian. I never thought that I'd be so interested in the pros and cons of hot water systems.

[1] Given Friedman's habit of praising a totalitarian society for making the trains run on time, I figure it could be worse. If he'd seen what the Inca were able to do using only a penchant for conquering neighboring tribes and a talent for employing corv�e labor, I'd fear for the day that the New York Times op-ed page proposed the repeal of the 13th amendment and the annexation of Canada.

[2] Nothing makes one more thankful for working sewers than a day or so in locations served only by outhouses.

Celebrations with Gaston and Others

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Tony and I recently had all our individual special occasions (i.e. as distinct from general holidays like Christmas) in quick succession: our second wedding anniversary while we were in Quito, and our birthdays while in Cuzco.

A Break in the Avoidance of Quakes

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As Tony mentioned, we had a narrow escape from Cuzco prior to the strikes and protests that have left some tourists semi-stranded. Having signed up with the U.S. State Department to receive email alerts, I saw the following in my inbox:

September-October Strikes & Elections in Cusco

The U.S. Embassy wishes to alert U.S. citizens residing and traveling in and around Cusco, Peru of possible travel difficulties due to strikes and political demonstrations in the weeks prior to the upcoming October 3 municipal elections. The Peru Rail tourism train between Cusco and Machu Picchu will be closed Tuesday September 21 and Wednesday 22 due to transportation strikes. Travelers should be aware of possible impediments or delays to their travel in this region, particularly in the lead up to the October 3 elections, and remain flexible in their plans.

It would have been nice to get this earlier than 8:47am on Sept. 21, when Tony and I already had reached the airport, but probably the U.S. Embassy doesn't get much more notice of these things than the rest of us.

However, once we reached Lima, we had a different kind of disruption: on our first night, around 3am, we woke up due to an earthquake tremor. It wasn't particularly noteworthy -- a mere 5.9 even at its epicenter 110 miles away from Lima -- and I wouldn't mention it except it ended my pattern of earthquake avoidance on this trip.

Consider: an earthquake shook central Canada just a few days before we crossed the northern border. A tremor passed through the D.C. area the day before I arrived for a friend's wedding in Northern Virginia. Both were extremely unusual for the areas in which they occurred.

As we'll be passing through several more earthquake-prone areas after Peru, hopefully all future tremors will be as negligible as the one we felt in Lima. I woke up, but quickly fell asleep again, and in the morning vaguely thought I'd had a dream about an earthquake, until the owner of the hostel asked me if I'd felt it.

It looks like Tuesday morning was a great time to leave Cuzco, as we got out just before strikes and protests paralyzed the city. Although we had a very hard time catching a cab to the airport, and were a bit confused as to why there was such a strong police presence apparent during the journey, we made it to our flight, and to Lima, without incident.

I'm really excited about the election. Not the American election (which I'm not talking about on this blog, unless sudden upsets become relevant to our travels), but the Peruvian elections coming up this fall. For sheer enjoyment of the political process, nothing beats a country in which you don't speak the language, don't understand the process, and don't have a stake in the outcome. It's all the fun of parades, crazy guys shouting through loudspeakers while perched precariously on the back of trucks, and omnipresent political advertising, without an investment in the outcome or the stress of civic duty.

The Peruvian election graphically illustrates that all the folks hyperventilating about evil corporations buying our political process following Citizens United are worried about nothing. Corporations can spend every drop of profit that they have on advertising, along with the unions, and tap into leftover TARP funds, and we still won't approach the level of political advertising of a Peruvian regional election. I have never in my life seen as many ads for candidates as I have in three weeks in Peru. Indeed, I may have seen more campaign signs, walls painted with slogans, buildings decked up to proclaim their allegiance to a particular party, large rocks decorated in campaign symbols, and cars sloshed with partisan paint than I have seen in the rest of my life combined. I kept thinking I'd turn the corner and find some young mother moving too slowly down the street, and some hack busily tattooing party symbols on the baby hanging from her back. [1]

I have no idea which party is which, or their positions. What I do know is their symbols, which are very important. While traveling through Peru, we've met people who speak one or more of Spanish, Quechua, or Aymara, and I'm sure there are other tongues. Moreover, about 7% of Peruvians can't read, according to Wikipedia. Presumably for this reason, every party political sign includes the party symbol with an X over it, illustrating how supporters should vote. [2] Thus, to go only by the pictures, Peru's political parties include, among others, the Condor Party, the My Logo Looks Like the O in Vodaphone Party, the Soccer Ball Party (I could make out that they're for more spending on sports and education), the Wheat Party, the Pan Pipe Party, the Incan Profile Party, and my personal favorite, Pan: the Bread Party. Their symbol is a loaf of bread, and depending upon the size of the wall bearing the advertisement, the logo either looks like a dinner roll or enough bread to feed a family of eight for a fortnight. Sometimes the loaf is framed by the outline of a mountain.

Pan's ads are cheery, brightly colored in greens and reds (except for the bread, which is the color you would expect), and I like them for their simplicity. Again, for all I know they're the party furthest away from my own politics, but I base my fondness solely upon their branding. It's a little liberating to chose your political support based on wholly senseless reasons.

While I never changed my political loyalties, other of our traveling companions were more fickle in their adoptive politics. One young lady was particularly fond of the Pan Flute Party, until she saw some of their supporters dancing down the street in a parade. Every man carried a cardboard cutlass covered in shiny foil, while every woman mimicked the moves of the men, sans weapon. Deciding that this was not her feminist cup of tea, she began looking for alternate choices. (I think, but can't actually remember, that she settled on the Sprouting Shamrock party.)

However, if I were a nationalized Peruvian voting for the first time, I think I would find democracy itself a disappointment, at least after I'd read the instructions helpfully provided by ONPE, the Peruvian agency responsible for voter education. ONPE's posters, explaining how to vote, were posted in most of the town squares, and as public service posters go, they were concise, direct and beat the heck out of anything you see at the post office. (Look at it this way: I could understand them with my limited Spanish. Imagine reading voter education signs in New York if your first language weren't English.) However, the sample ballot on the signs had even better political parties: the Pumpkin Party, the Internet Party (symbol: @, of course), and the Fudgesicle Party, among a dozen others. After that, Bread and Condors (let alone elephants and donkeys--how boring are we?) just can't compete.

[1] We asked one of our guides whether candidates were required to paint over these ads after the election, and he told us that while they were supposed to do so, they often did not. On the other hand, one mayoral candidate took advantage of this, with posters and banners proclaiming (roughly translated) "[Candidate] believes that we should keep Puno beautiful, so he doesn't paint ads on the walls."

[2] This caused us a few seconds of cultural confusion. Because the symbol was covered by an "X," we originally thought that these were somehow negative ads: "Don't vote for the Bread Party," etc. In actual fact, I've not seen a negative ad yet, which is perhaps aided by the multitude of political parties. Maybe it's easier to go positive for yourself than to trash a dozen other factions. Or maybe negative ads have been banned. I don't know.

We already knew that if we were going to charge anything in South America, the Capital One card was the way to go. They have good exchange rates and no foreign transaction fees. (Seriously, if you're doing overseas travel, CO beats AMEX [1], BoA, or Chase hands down.) But credit cards are the least of one's payment problems in Ecuador and Peru. For the most part, establishments are loath to take your plastic, and will frequently charge you a heavy fee for the convenience. While you're down here, cash is king.

Which had been a problem, because we were getting killed by ATM fees: about 10 soles or $3 per ATM transaction. Which puts one in a bind: do you pull out the maximum amount of cash and become an instant mugging target, or do you pile up the fees?

Fortunately, Scotiabank has solved the problem. Its ATMs throughout Peru do not seem to charge ATM fees, nothwithstanding which of our accounts we used for the withdrawal. If you're traveling in this area, it's worth walking over a plaza or two to get to their ATMs. (The GlobalNet ATMs, by the way, are tourist-trap-highway-robbery fee machines.)

Hey, How I Met Your Mother may like to make fun of Canadians, but at least they have civilized cash machines!

[1] Which does, however, have a pretty good platinum concierge service, although it's more likely to get a good result if you ask it a question about stateside services.

I'm not sure if anyone has ever bothered to make it official, but it becomes obvious after ten minutes in about any Peruvian bar that pisco is the national spirit of Peru. Visitors will most likely first encounter the spirit in the pisco sour, which again, if not actually the national cocktail, appears on menus with sufficient ubiquity that one could be forgiven for thinking that it is. Unfortunately, the sticky sweetness of the pisco sour and its whipped-egg consistency do not appeal to me. [1] Quebranta and aromatic piscos on their own, give me a sharp, strongly alcoholic taste, like a dry brandy.

We've tried a few pisco drinks while in Cuzco, but my favorite so far is the Capitan, served to me last night by the bartenders at Chi Cha. Besides being an excellent restaurant (and I suspect that Pallavi will write more about this), Chi Cha boasts some of the friendliest bartenders that we have encountered in South America. They managed to overcome my poor-to-nonexistent Spanish and conversed with me, at length, about the various local ingredients to be found in their cocktails. They also gave me a quick primer on pisco (which admittedly I had to supplement later with some online research).

Better than that, they shared with me the Chi Cha recipe for the Capitan (which is slightly different from some I've seen online). It's essentially a pisco-based Manhattan, but with the taste of vermouth coming through more clearly. Not a drink for those deeply opposed to Cinzano (you know who you are), but one that I think I'm adding to my list of favorites.

  • Three oz. quebranta pisco
  • Two oz. red vermouth
  • One twist orange peel
  • One twist lime peel

Combine pisco and vermouth in a shaker with ice. Pour into cocktail glass. Twist orange peel into glass, coat rim. [2] Garnish with a twist of lime.

[1] About the only cocktail in this genus that I occasionally drink is the White Lady, and I admit that this may only be due to my fondness for the American Bar at the Savoy. In any event, a proper White Lady doesn't have egg white.

[2] I think a dash of bitters would also work here, if you're not feeling like professional-grade cocktail-making.

Sitting in a Peruvian bar, hearing Tom's Diner (the dance mix, of course), and realizing that it pretty exactly describes a lazy Sunday morning at Columbia, dodging work.

(I tried to write this in the style of Cormac McCarthy. Even after being woken up by a rat and two cups of coca tea, I just couldn't manage it.)

As I've mentioned before, I needed some new shoes by the time I got to Peru. Not expecting to do much in the way of nice dining, I had brought only my boots, some bright yellow running shoes, and my four-year-old sandals. After Galapagos, those sandals were on their last legs, and I couldn't clean or repair them any further. Given my other options, I thought a cheapish pair of leather slip-ons (casual enough for every day, and that might serve in a nice restaurant) were in order.

The only problem: neither Ecuador or Peru are particularly good places to find shoes for large feet.

We arrived at Lima's airport late on the night of August 30 and stayed at Hostal El Patio, a charming and not-uncomfortable little place. They let us arrive very late (after midnight), picked us up from the airport, and were clean and quiet enough for the first night.

The next two nights were spent in luxury at a Doubletree, enjoying a soft bed and splurging a bit. My parents had saved up some Hilton points, and offered them to us as an anniversary gift, without which this would have been impossible. (Thanks!) This hotel was willing to accept post on our behalf, which solved one issue for us.

We did not really see much of Lima in the first three days. Knowing that we had two days of comfort and safety at the Doubletree, we had not planned much in advance. Also, a month of Ecuador had run down our supplies: my old sandals were pretty much destroyed, a few shirts had seen their last days of service following shrinkage in a hostel launderia... in short, sightseeing took second-fiddle to shopping, answering long-overdue email, and generally preparing for Cuzco.

We did wander around the Miraflores district, mostly a "gringo" area full of shopping, food, and nightlife. Although not exactly what some would call an "authentic cultural experience," I find that every so often I need to sit in a business district just relaxing and catching up with the world. The plan is to actually do Lima on the way back, as we have to fly out of there on the way to Buenos Aires.

On the other hand, we did waste some time talking to travel agents. Note to future Peruvian travellers: LAN has two prices for domestic flights, one for Peruvians and the other for foreigners. There are, reputedly, some ways around this, and the woman at the LAN ticket desk did not seem to want to charge us the foreigner price. But Peruvian Airlines and Star Peru, the two low-cost airlines flying to Cuzco, won out. Which led us to the ancient city of the Incas in the morning of September 3... more about which later.

An unfortunate first

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I woke up this morning to spy the first rat that I've seen in any of our accommodation. Suffice it to say, the Pirwa Bed and Breakfast Suecia is not getting a good review.

On the other hand, now I'm unquestionably awake, so a good time to blog.

Update: Two new thoughts upon waking: (a) that explains the cat, and (b) judging from the sounds coming from the courtyard and my experience with old house cats and field mice, the rat may now be less of a problem. We're still checking out today.

Things We've Seen

Things We Like