Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Antigua, Guatemala. The heart of Mayan country.

On our cruise up the Pacific Coast of South and Central America we visited several cities in six countries. One of places that The Amazing Ms D. and I liked best was the city of Antigua, Guatemala. We both really appreciate places that have a history, and in Antigua, you really can feel the history in the walled homes, in the cobble stones, in the bronzed faces of the Mayan women in the streets.

During colonial times, Guatemala was the capital of Spain’s holdings Central America. So the area from what is today Colombia, north to the Mexican state of Chiapas was governed by the colonial offices in Guatemala. Dating back to 1543, Antigua was actually the third capital of Guatemala. The first, Ciudad de Santiago de los Caballeros de Goathemalan (City of Saint James of the Knights of Guatemala), founded in 1524 suffered several to rebellions by the Kakchikel-Mayan people. The second, Ciudad Vieja, was destroyed when an earthquake caused the water in the lake of the nearby Volcán de Agua to be released and flood the town. The current city of Antigua was built in 1543 and was the capital of the Spanish colonial government until it was hit with a major earthquake in 1773. Today, Antigua is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which helps to preserve it charm and intrinsic historical flavor.

After the 1773 earthquake - By Harper's Weekly [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

. Our ship docked at Puerto Quetzal on the Pacific Coast of Guatemala. To get from our ship to Antigua we took a 90 min bus ride up into the mountains The drive to Antigua is about 80 Km (50 mi) mostly along a 2 lane highway that climbs from the sea level to an altitude of 1500m (5000ft). This gave us a passing glance of how Guatemalans in this area live. This is a mostly agricultural area with sugar fields at lower altitudes and fruit and coffee in the mountains. Along the way we passed through the rebuilt Ciudad Vieja. We really got a view of life for people who lived in this area. We saw people carrying bundles of wood to use as cooking fuel. We saw students walking when the next town was several miles away. We saw people selling fruits and other goods.

Sugar Cane Field

Inter-city Transportation

Watermelons for sale

Fruit trees giving shade to coffee trees

Ciudad Vieja

A one-stop doctor, for you and your pet

Antigua is a beautiful old colonial city. Because it is UNESCO World Heritage Site, everything must remain as it was. The center of the city is a square 10 blocks on a side. The streets are cobblestone with very narrow sidewalks running along pretty buildings with windows that overhang the sidewalk. The outside of the buildings are similar, but inside they have surprises. For example we had lunch in the ChocoMuseo (The Chocolate Museum).  Upon entering we found a wonderful courtyard that serves as a restaurant. The food was amazing, especially the desserts. I had Chicken Pepían, a soup seasoned with a mixture of ground peppers that gave it an out of this world flavor. For dessert I had Bananas in Mole sauce. This plate of sweet cooked bananas covered in delicious chocolate sauce was worth the whole trip. I finished off with a hot chocolate that I had to construct myself, mixing the hot milk, chocolate sauce, cinnamon and chile pepper to my taste.

A courtyard garden grows beyond its walls

Street advertising for a local pizza shop

In the Chocomuseo

Pepían de Pollo

My deconstructed hot chocolate

Courtyard inside the Palacio de Doña Leonora

The native population in Antigua is Mayan. While they are not statuesque, they are striking. At the ChocoMuseo there were three Mayan women selling hand embroidered blouses. The Amazing Ms D. bought a blouse from one of the women there, who altered it on the spot to fit her. Around the town there were many Mayans selling fruit, tapestries and other goods. The streets are filled with Mayan women selling fruits and vegetables from trays carried on their heads. Others were selling colorful embroidered tapestries and table clothes.

Finally, The Amazing Ms D. could feel statuesque

We were truly enraptured by Guatemala. We want to go back when we have more time to spend. We want to be able to really explore Antigua and its Mayan history, Guatemala City and the north coast of Guatemala, which has a large Garifuna (African descendants) population.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Real NYC #29 - Visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art

One of the things that I love about living in New York City is wide variety of museums in the city. There is something for just about everyone, from history (NY Historical Society) to film (Museum of the Moving Picture) to mass transit (NYC Transit Museum) to art (way too many to mention). The grandfather of them all, the elephant in the room, is The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Met was incorporated in 1870 "for the purpose of establishing and maintaining in said City a Museum and Library of Art, of encouraging and developing the Study of the Fine Arts, and the application of Art to manufacture and natural life, of advancing the general knowledge of kindred subjects, and to that end of furnishing popular instruction and recreations" (Disturnell, John New York As It Was and As It Is).  Over the past 146 years the Met has developed one of the best collections of art in the world, a collection that brings together examples of the best fine and decorative arts from all corners and cultures of the world. 

Irving Underhill [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Such a collection can be overwhelming. The museum is ¼-mile long and occupies over 2 million square feet of space.  Its building consists of 20 different structures that have been built to hold its ever growing collection. There are so many choices of things to see, it is just impossible to see and enjoy all that the Met has to offer in one visit. So here are my tips if you have just one day.

Take pictures on the steps, but don’t use them to enter!

The Met's front stoop
The front steps of the Met are iconic, a New York stoop on steroids. The steps are a great place to sit and people watch. Take pictures. Ask strangers to take pictures of you. Enjoy a snack. But don’t enter the museum at the top of the steps. The visitor's lines inside are really long. Instead, go to the school groups/handicap entrance, just to the left of the steps (as you look at the entrance). This little used entrance takes you into the ground floor, where the lines for coat and bag check are short, and so is the ticket line.

The Met is a “Pay what you want” museum

Many museums in New York City have broken the $20 barrier in admission price. The Met’s sign seem to ask for a $25 admission price, but look carefully, because in small print it says – SUGGESTED ADMISSION. And it is just that. You have to pay something, but you pay what you want. Think about your budget, and give what you feel you can afford. But if you use the “express ticket” machines they will only accept the full suggested admission price.

Take the time to plan your visit

The Met has a huge collection. And it has special exhibits. It also has a great web site. Take the time before you go to plan out what you want to see. I would suggest 30 min – 1 hour for each gallery or exhibit you choose. This gives you time to really enjoy the art you visit. So, if you have 3 hours, pick the three to five exhibits that you are most interested in. And don’t worry, you will see a lot more, as you walk from one gallery to the other.

On a recent visit to the Met I chose two special exhibits. The first was Court and Cosmos an exhibit of art from the Seljuq dynasty of Turkey during the 11th to 14th centuries. Court and Cosmos includes beautiful examples of stone statues, relief work, tapestries and ceramics that have been organized to explain different aspects of life under the Seljuq rulers. Divided into topics such as “Science, Medicine and Technology” and “Religion and Literary Life,” the exhibit connects the themes of different aspects of life with the art and tools that have survived to today. This is a fairly large exhibit, filling one of the Met’s largest galleries, and I spent about an hour enjoying the pieces. Court and Cosmos will be at the Met through July 27th.

Stone face with beaded headress

The other exhibit I went to was Turner’s Whaling Pictures, a show of 4 paintings by Joseph Mallord William Turner. Turner was a British landscape painter who worked during the first half of the 19th century. These four pieces were among the last paintings of his life. This exhibit is the first time in over 50 years that all four of his whaling paintings have been shown together. As a fan of Impressionism, I really like these paintings. Even though they were painted during the years of 1849-1851, they have the feel of the Impressionist painters who dominated the European art world 40 years later. Turner’s Whaling Pictures will be at the Met through August 7.

Detail from Whalers by Turner

Detail from Whalers
During this visit I spent about an hour and half in the exhibit halls. I also saw a few quick things walking from on hall to the other. One other advantage of using the school groups entrance is that this is where the museum has placed its discount book store. For prices ranging from $1 to $25 there was a wide range of books and catalogs from past exhibitions.

Getting There – The Metropolitan Museum of Art is located on 5th Ave, between the 79th and 86th street transverses of Central Park. The #6 train stops at 77th street and 86th street on Lexington Ave. (3 blocks east of 5th Ave). The M
1, M2, M3, and M4 buses stop right in front of the museum on their downtown routes, and one block away on Madison Ave on their uptown routes.
Cost – The suggested admission is $25 for adults, $17 for seniors and $12 for students, HOWEVER THESE ARE SUGGESTED ADMISSIONS. If you buy your ticket at the desk you may pay what you want/can afford. One other note, eating at the Met is expensive, but so is eating in its neighborhood (the Upper East Side). If weather permits I suggest bringing sandwiches and having a picnic in Central Park. You can check your bags for free at the Museum, just don’t bring a cooler.