End the year in sporting style

Posted On October 16, 2007

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Event: Miami Dolphins versus the Cincinnati Bengals
Date: December 30th 2007

December and 2007 could end in style for football fans by staying in a luxury hotel and heading to Dolphin Stadium to catch the Miami Dolphins host the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Miami Dolphins are one of the world’s best-known sports teams, with their illustrious history featuring legendary players such as Dan Marino and a perfect season where they won every game including the Super Bowl in 1972. December 30th sees the Dolphins play the Bengals in the final game of 2007 for both teams, with Dolphin Stadium providing a great setting for early end-of-year celebrations.

Opened in 1987 and formerly known as Joe Robbie Stadium, the arena is currently undergoing a transformation to make it “the most-inspired and unmatched stadium experience in the world”, according to the Dolphin Stadium website. Currently more than 75,000 fans can pack into Dolphin Stadium for a football game, with around 24,000 car parking spaces on hand for fans.

Get the New Year’s celebrations underway early with a luxurious stay at The Chesterfield Palm Beach.

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It’s time to make those holiday plans

Posted On September 23, 2007

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The leaves haven’t even begun to turn, but Thanksgiving and Christmas are in the air. Will you be too?

With people planning holiday travel early, it might pay to start your holiday shopping with your airline tickets.

Best Holiday times to fly > If you’re going to grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving or Christmas, you’d better start making plans. Americans are booking their holiday travel earlier this year than usual, according to Priceline. Here are some of the key dates, from Priceline’s Best Days to Fly Calendar.

*The lowest fares for Thanksgiving are for travel on November 19, 22, 23 and 27. Thanksgiving day is November 22.

*The lowest fares for Christmas are for travel before December 19 or on December 24, 26, 27, 28 and 31. Christmas and New Year’s Day are on Tuesdays this season.

Russian Winter Celebrations > All Power to the Parties

Everyone knows that Russian winters are brutal. Perhaps that’s why, as anyone who knows Russian culture can attest, the winter season is also famous for fun, a festive time for Russians to stave off cold-weather blues.

Although Russians officially switched to the Gregorian calendar after the revolution of 1917, the Russian Orthodox Church has maintained its holiday schedule using the Julian calendar, meaning Christmas is celebrated on the day the Gregorian calendar calls January 7 and New Year on January 14.

Christmas is mostly a family affair, but come New Year, it’s party time. A few weeks later comes the traditional celebration of Maslenitsa, a last-chance party before Lent, like Mardis Gras or Carnival. And because Russians seem to find their holidays too good to leave behind, even if you can’t make it all the way to Russia this winter, you can find opportunities to join the celebration.

London, for example, will hold the third Russian Winter Festival this year on January 13, the eve of Orthodox New Year, in Trafalgar Square. And on February 9 in New York, just before Maslenitsa, February 12 to 18 this year, the Russian Children’s Welfare Society will hold the 42nd Petroushka Ball. It’s a traditional Russian ball, with fine dining, dancing and music at the Waldorf-Astoria. Originally a small, invitation-only charity benefit, the ball, though still formal and rather expensive, is now open to anyone who wants to buy a ticket.

In San Francisco, the Russian Center sponsors a less formal but more open winter festival, now in its 19th year. It’s roughly scheduled to coincide with Maslenitsa in Russia, where the tradition is for people to take to the streets in brightly colored costumes and masks for bonfires and effigy burnings, sanctioned group fistfights and other alcohol-fueled merriment. Everyone eats the traditional Maslenitsa food: blintzes with butter, jam, caviar and other toppings. Organizers in San Francisco expect to have everything but the fighting for their three-day event, which usually draws about 4,000 people.

Maslenitsa actually means something having to do with butter,” said Zoia Choglokoff, vice president and director of programs at the center, the Russian word for butter is maslo. ”It means you can have blintzes and butter and drink and so on, and then for six weeks you have to stop it,” she said. ”It’s an old Russian tradition.”

The Slavic Festival this weekend in Eugene, Ore., though not exclusively Russian, is held in conjunction with the Russian holidays and features traditional food, dancing, music and art that is mostly Russian. It is sponsored by the Slavic Home, a nonprofit cultural organization.

Of course, one of the most recognizable elements of Russia’s culture is its rich legacy of symphonic music. The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra is taking Russian culture on the road this winter with its Russian Romantics Festival, beginning next week. In a series of concerts around the state, the orchestra will feature the music of Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky, Borodin and other Russian composers.

Also holding a Russian winter festival is the Tucson Symphony Orchestra: four concerts will feature the music of Prokofiev, Mussorgsky and Shostakovich, among others. George Hanson, the symphony’s music director and conductor, has long had an interest in Russian music.

Mr. Hanson, who won an ECHO-Klassik award in 2003 in Germany for recordings of works by Anton Rubinstein, finds a passion in Russian music that may be echoed in the enthusiasm the country shows for its holidays. ”When a Russian plays the violin, you never have to wonder if it’s a Russian,” he said. ”They dig in. The hairs on the bow start flying onto the floor. A great performance of a Russian work will draw you into a world where the colors are more vivid and the emotions are more keenly felt.”


LONDON > Trafalgar Square; (44-207) 183-2560; www.eventica.co.uk/events/rwf/2007. What: Russian Winter Festival; free. When: January 13.

NEW YORK > Russian Children’s Welfare Society, (212) 473-6263; www.rcws.org. What: Petroushka Ball, with dinner, dancing and vocal and balalaika performances; admission from $375. When: February 9.

SAN FRANCISCO > Russian Center of San Francisco, (415) 921-7631; www.russiancentersf.com. What: Russian Festival in Maslenitsa tradition, $10. When: February 9 to 11.

EUGENE, ORE. > Slavic Home, (541) 510-7651; www.slavichome.org. What: Slavic Festival, $5 a night. When: Tomorrow and Sunday.

NEW JERSEY > New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, (800) 255-3476; www.njsymphony.org. What: Russian Romantics festival; most tickets from $20. When: January 9 to 28.

TUCSON, ARIZ. > Tucson Symphony Orchestra, (520) 882-8585; www.tucsonsymphony.org. What: Russian Festival; from $18. When: February 8 to March 11.

New York City > New Year’s Eve

Posted On December 29, 2006

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From Times Square and beyond, New York City is the place to be on December 31

The world celebrates New Year’s Eve with New York City as millions of people worldwide watch the countdown and famous ball drop in Times Square. But the Times Square festivities are just the beginning of what’s happening in the Big Apple this New Year’s Eve. From dramatic fireworks displays to special concerts, there is no place like New York to ring in the New Year.

Celebrate at the Cross Roads of the World > More than 750,000 people pack into the blocks surrounding Times Square (www.timessquarenyc.org, 212-768-1560) on December 31 for the famed New Year’s Eve celebration. For over 100 years, this celebration has been an annual tradition and the epitome of New Year’s celebrations. Revelers will be covered with 2,000 pounds of confetti as they watch the Waterford Crystal Ball descend atop One Times Square as the clock strikes midnight. Visitors wanting to be a part of the action should plan to arrive no later than 3pm to stake out a spot. The best places to view the Times Square celebration are along Broadway from 43rd to 50th Streets and on 7th Avenue from 43rd to 59th Streets.

Hotels and Happenings > Celebrate the new year in style with a party at one of New York City’s top hotels. The Mandarin Oriental, New York (80 Columbus Circle at 60th Street, www.mandarinoriental.com, 212-805-8800) will host a party at the 35th floor lobby lounge overlooking Columbus Circle and Central Park. Guests can enjoy spectacular city views dance to live music as they celebrate 2006. The hotel’s restaurant Asiate will have a special New Year’s menu with seatings at 5:30pm (3-course prix-fixe, $75) and 9pm (7-course prix-fixe $255). Admission to the lobby lounge party will be free to guests of the hotel and Asiate; non-guests will pay a $125 cover charge.

Enjoy the Times Square celebration from high above the crowd at the Marriott Marquis (1535 Broadway, www.nymarriottmarquis.com, 212-398-1900) Broadway Party featuring champagne reception, four-course dinner, open bar, live DJ and special entertainment. Located on Broadway, just north of Times Square, the Marriott Marquis offers a prime viewing location to watch the New Year’s festivities. Tickets for the Broadway party are $899 per couple, and $999 or $1400 per couple for premium seating.

Ring in the new year with a bang at the Ritz-Carlton New York, Battery (2 West Street, www.ritzcarlton.com, 212-344-0800) offering exclusive viewing of spectacular New Year’s Eve fireworks over the Statue of Liberty and New York Harbor. The Bubbles & Sparks package ($1095 per couple) include luxury accommodations in a City View room, entry into the private party at the 14th floor Rise Bar, premium open bar, hors d’oeuvres, champagne toast and midnight fireworks from the Grucci family. Lovebirds can spend New Year’s Eve together with the Fireworks Romance package ($1250 per couple), which includes a Harbor View room offering private views of the midnight fireworks, dinner and dancing at 2 West restaurant, a champagne toast, party favors and an in-room bottle of champagne and strawberries.

Eschew the traditional raucous New Year’s Eve partying and start the new year off with a relaxing spa getaway at the Westin New York Times Square (270 West 43rd Street, www.westinny.com, 212-201-2700). The Spa Inspired New Year’s Package ($619 per person, December 29 – January 2) allows guests to relax and renew for the new year with a two night minimum stay in a Spa Inspired Guest Room, a bottle of champagne, a 50-minute Swedish spa treatment, full American breakfast, spa amenities and free access to the health club. The hotel’s new Spa Inspired Guestrooms feature electronic Shiatsu massage chairs, aromatherapy bath amenities, bottles of water, fruit and a mini bar with healthy snacks.

Feinstein’s at the Regency (540 Park Avenue, www.loewshotels.com, 212-759-4100) will host a special New Year’s celebration featuring an exclusive performance from legendary singer Michael Feinstein. Guests can enjoy a three-course dinner and open bar, and have the opportunity to meet Mr. Feinstein after the show ($650/per couple). At midnight there will be a champagne toast, and partygoers will receive a half bottle of champagne to take home.

Party like it’s 2006 > There’s no place like New York City for parties on New Year’s Eve. Take to the water on December 31 with an electrifying 3-hour cruise with Circle Line Sightseeing (Pier 83 West 42nd Street, www.circleline42.com, 212-563-3200). Enjoy dazzling skyline views, live DJ and dancing, an open bar, hors d’oeuvres, party favors, and a midnight champagne toast. Boarding begins at 9pm and the boat sails from 10pm – 1pm, the price is $120 per person. Or go upscale with a luxurious World Yacht (Pier 81 West 41st Street, www.worldyacht.com, 212-630-8100) cruise, including a five-course dinner, open bar and live band. Both vessels will offer the perfect vantage point of New York Harbor to view the midnight fireworks by the Grucci family.

Greenwich Village’s Mannahatta (316 Bowery, www.mannahatta.us, 212-253-8644) offers a sleek multi-level space for guests to enjoy. The New Year’s Eve Package ($150 per person) includes premium open bar from 9pm – 2am, gourmet hors d’oeuvres from 9pm – midnight, a midnight champagne toast, party favors and live entertainment featuring DJs and go go dancers. The fun only begins at midnight as the bar is open all night until 10am when breakfast will be served.

Spend New Year’s Eve in bed with a party at of one of the city’s most unique nightclubs, BED NY (530 West 27th Street, www.bedny.com, 212-594-4109), where you can sip cocktails while relaxing on an oversized bed. This party will be no sleepy affair with a top shelf open bar, appetizers by Chef Vitor, midnight champagne toast, and special entertainment ($150 per person). Stay up all night and enjoy an early morning “breakfast buffet”, detox cocktails and essential hangover helpers as you view the first sunrise of 2006 from the 7th floor enclosed rooftop deck.

For the ultimate guide to New Year’s Eve parties check out www.newyears.com (212-843-2400) where partygoers can search for a variety of parties hosted at restaurants, clubs, bars and lounges throughout the city and purchase advance tickets. The site provides details about the party including pricing, venue information and photographs. Another top party resource is www.joonbug.com (212-255-4223) offering information and tickets to the city’s hottest places to ring in the new year.

Fantastic Fireworks > What better way to celebrate the New Year than a spectacular display of fireworks above the city skyline? Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza at Prospect Park (www.prospectpark.org, 718-965-8999) will be alight with colorful fireworks at midnight to welcome 2006. The best locations for viewing the fireworks are at Grand Army Plaza, on the Prospect Park’s West Drive, and along Prospect Park West between Grand Army Plaza and 9th Street. Guests are encouraged to arrive early to secure a prime viewing location. Fireworks from the famous Grucci family will light up the sky above the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island at the stroke of midnight. The best viewing locations include Battery Park and Wagner Park. Central Park (www.centralparknyc.org, 212-794-6564) will also host a midnight fireworks display. Tavern on the Green and Sheep’s Meadow, as well as high rises surrounding the park are among the best spots to watch the fireworks.

Other events in Central Park include a costume contest and dancing at the Central Park Bandshell plaza. Athletes who want to ring in the New Year by breaking a sweat can take part in a four-mile run through Central Park hosted by New York Road Runners (www.nyrrc.org, 212-860-4455) or join the cyclists and in-line skaters of Time’s Up and ride from Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village to Central Park’s Belvedere Castle.

Performing Arts > Culture vultures can celebrate the New Year with a special music or dance performance. Mambo in the New Year at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola (33 West 60th Street, www.jazzatlincolncenter.org, 212-258-9800) with legendary Cuban musician Paquito D’Rivera and his Panamerican Ensemble. Located in the Jazz at Lincoln Center complex in the Time Warner Building, Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola will serve guests a three-course dinner to enjoy during the set ($155 per person for the 10pm set).

Dance aficionados will enjoy a special New Year’s Eve performance from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (405 West 55th Street, www.alvinailey.org, 212-405-9000) at New York City Center. The special performance will feature the world premiere of Ife by Ronald K. Brown, the Ailey classic Revelations and the highly anticipated new ballet, Reminiscin’.

Live from Lincoln Center presents the New York Philharmonic (10 Lincoln Center Plaza, www.newyorkphilharmonic.org, 212-875-5000) in its annual New Year’s Eve Gala. This festive evening of music will ring in the New Year with a program of Italian opera featuring world renowned soprano Angela Gheorghiu. Tickets for the live performance are available for $80 – $235.

Enjoy a free concert at St. Bartholomew’s Church (109 East 50th Street, www.stbarts.org, 212-378-0200) starting at 11pm. Fanfares, Fugues and Finales: A Concert to Usher in the New Year will feature organist William K Trafka performing works from Bach, Tchaikovsky, Widor and Langlais. Earlier in the evening the church will present Bachworks: The Brandenburg Concerti, a performance of six of the most exuberant classical musical pieces ever written. Tickets are $20 to $100 and the concert starts at 8pm.

Start the new year off with a laugh at one of New York City’s comedy clubs. The Comic Strip Live (1568 Second Avenue, www.comicstriplive.com, 212-861-9386) offers a 10:30pm show including an all-star line up of comedians, a three hour open bar, munchies, party favors, champagne toast and live broadcast of the celebration in Times Square ($90 per person). The National Comedy Theater (347 West 36th Street, www.manhattancomedy.com, 212-629-5202) will present its New Year’s Eve Spectacular starting at 9:30pm ($75 per person). The comedy troupe will present an improvised show based on audience suggestions, followed by a New Year’s countdown. Located on Broadway just north of Times Square, Caroline’s on Broadway (1626 Broadway, www.carolines.com, 212-956-0101) is a popular destination for New Year’s Eve revelers. The 10:30pm show will feature acts from top stand-up comedians, a live broadcast of the ball drop in Times Square and DJ and dancing after midnight ($90 per person plus two drink minimum). Chicago City Limits (318 W. 53rd Street, www.chicagocitylimits.com, 212-888-5233) will ring in the new year with a special New Year’s Eve show that takes aim at the places, faces and events of the past year, with songs and improvisations. Shows at 8pm & 10:15pm and tickets are $35 & $45 plus 2-drink minimum.

Family Friendly Celebrations > Raise your non-alcoholic sparking cider and toast these family friendly New Year’s Eve options. The Big Apple Circus (www.bigapplecircus.org, 212-268-2500) will offer a New Year’s Eve performance starting at 9:30pm and ending just in time for a midnight countdown led by ringmaster Paul Binder.

Celebrate with dancing, live music, and special goody bags with hats streamers and noisemakers. Tickets are $45 to $125 for the circus performance and New Year’s celebration.

Little ones who can’t make it to midnight can celebrate with the New Year’s Dance Party and countdown at 2:30pm on December 31 with the Brooklyn Children’s Museum (145 Brooklyn Avenue, www.brooklynkids.org, 718-735-4400). Impack II, an eclectic band that plays hip-hop, reggae and soca-inspired tunes, will provide music to dance to at this Caribbean-themed celebration. Noisemakers and party favors will be provided for kids to enjoy. Admission to the museum is $4.

The Bronx Zoo (2300 Southern Blvd., www.bronxzoo.com, 718-367-1010) will be shining bright this holiday season with the Bronx Zoo Holiday Lights, presented by Hess. December 31 is the last night to enjoy this festive celebration of more than half a million mini-lights and more than 150 lighted sculptures. Families can enjoy the lights from 5-9pm and tickets are $10 for adults, $7 children and seniors and free for children under two years old.

Restaurants > A number of New York City restaurants are celebrating New Year’s Eve with prix-fixe menus and special entertainment. Some of the highlights are Garage Restaurant’s (99 Seventh Avenue South, www.garagerest.com, 212-645-0600) three-course menu including champagne toast and dancing ($95 per person), Sal Anthony SPQR’s (133 Mulberry Street, www.salanthonys.com, 212-925-3120) gala cocktail hour and four-course dinner menu including open bar, champagne toast and party favors ($125 per person) and Remi’s black-tie New Year’s Eve gala (145 West 53rd Street, www.remi.citysearch.com, 212-581-4242). For those who want to enjoy the ambiance of the Times Square celebration without the crowds, there are a number of restaurants in the vicinity offering special New Year’s menus.

La Prima Donna (163 West 47th Street, www.laprimadonnany.com, 212-398-3400) offers a three-course dinner including a bottle of champagne and live entertainment ($125 per person) and Joseph’s by Citarella (1240 Avenue of the Americas, www.josephscitarella.com, 212-332-1515) has a four or five-course dinner including champagne toast ($125 per person).

Head downtown to Tribeca Grill (375 Greenwich Street, www.myriadrestaurantgroup.com, 212-941-3900) for the annual New Year’s Eve Gala. This year’s festivities include a five-course feast of holiday favorites and live entertainment from Ron Sunshine and his band ($150 per person). Or have dinner before heading out on the town with Tribeca Grill’s a la carte menu offered from 5:30 to 8:45pm.

Barbetta Restaurant (321 West 46th Street, www.barbettarestaurant.com, 212-246-9171) will host its most spectacular New Year’s Eve in a century as the restaurant kicks off its 100th anniversary. Dinner, dancing and midnight toast are included for $250 person. Planet Hollywood (1540 Broadway at 45th Street, www.planethollywood.com, 212-333-STAR) parties with buffet, hors d’oeuvres and open bar ($225 per person, $275 VIP) and T.G.I. Friday’s (761 Seventh Avenue, www.tgifridays.com, 212-767-8349) offers entertainment, champagne toast, buffet, dessert and open bar for $225 per person.

A two-day Western Canadian rail journey

Posted On December 14, 2006

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Looking for a quick and easy escape from the seasonal rush or better yet a great way to get into the holiday spirit? Western Canadians should think outside the Christmas gift box and treat themselves to a getaway this December with Rocky Mountaineer Vacations. Departing conveniently from Vancouver and Calgary, the relaxing Christmas-themed two-day Rocky Mountaineer train takes guests through the picture-perfect winter landscape of the Canadian Rockies.

“With only two weeks until Christmas, finding the perfect last minute holiday can be challenging,” says James Terry, Executive VP and C.O.O. of Rocky Mountaineer Vacations. “If you live in B.C. or Alberta the solution is close to home with the Rocky Mountaineer winter train. There are no line-ups, no long flights, no heavy luggage to carry and no loose ends. It is truly a seamless travel experience.”
Two-days of winter fun and relaxation await onboard the world-renowned Rocky Mountaineer train which features Christmas with all the trimmings. With no cell phones, computers or crowds to deal with, the train offers a cozy, relaxing and pampered experience as it travels eastbound or westbound between the coastal city of Vancouver and the world-class ski resort town of Banff, in the Canadian Rockies. Guests may choose to travel in either GoldLeaf or RedLeaf Service with prices starting at CDN $549 per adult (based on double occupancy) and CDN $259 per child (2-11 years). The journey includes two breakfast and lunch meals, one dinner, overnight hotel accommodation and rail station transfers in Kamloops, B.C. Getaway before or after Christmas with travel departure dates from Vancouver, December 19 or 27 and from Banff, December 21 or 29. Motorcoaches connect guests between Banff and Calgary.
Whether seated in RedLeaf or GoldLeaf Service, adult guests are invited to visit the specialty lounge car which features live jazz, dancing, and a bar serving such holiday favourites as mulled wine and eggnog laced with dark rum. In the coach next door, children are kept busy by an onboard entertainer who leads the group in carolling, decoration making, fort building and a variety of games. Amidst the food and fun, Santa Claus makes an appearance and delivers gifts to all when the train meets his broken down sleigh mid-route.
For additional information or to book a getaway on the Rocky Mountaineer winter train, contact your local travel professional or Rocky Mountaineer Vacations directly at (800) 665-7245. You may also visit the website at www.winterrailvacations.com
Rocky Mountaineer Vacations offers year-round vacation packages to the most unique regions of Canada and four spectacular rail routes through British Columbia and Alberta.  Best known for the world-acclaimed Rocky Mountaineer train, a two-day, all daylight rail journey between Canada’s West and the Canadian Rockies, the company also offers trips onboard the new Whistler Mountaineer train, which is a daily three-hour experience between North Vancouver and Whistler, B.C. Since its inception in 1990, the company has grown to become the largest privately owned passenger rail service in North America and has hosted over 900,000 guests from around the world. In 2006, RMV was honoured with a World Travel Award as “World’s Leading Travel Experience by Train” for the second consecutive year. Rocky Mountaineer Vacations, one of Canada’s leading tourism providers, is a proud partner of Gray Line West motorcoach operations in Banff, AB and Vancouver, Whistler and Victoria, B.C.

New Year’s Eve in Peru

Posted On December 9, 2006

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Traditional rugs made of llama’s wool are displayed outside a moutain hut

It’s 5 a.m. on December 31, and Puno, a lakeside town in southeast Peru, is stirring. Coral pinks and tropical aquamarines creep into the sky. I gaze up at the rafters, tied with strips of llama skin. Closely following the dawn chorus of birds come the cries of children playing an impromptu soccer game by the railroad tracks. I watch them through the window. The game includes children of all ages, and the small children are swooped out of the action zone when the game moves their way. The one-room dwellings where many of these families live aren’t big enough for playing inside, so the kids are outside as soon as it is light.

The traders, too, are already arriving and setting up their stalls on the sidewalk, first laying down the cerise and blue woven cloths that serve women as baby slings, backpacks and, now, a cloth on which to arrange trinkets.

We bartered with the vendors yesterday to buy yellow underwear, which we plan to wear at midnight tonight, a Peruvian tradition said to bring good luck for the New Year.

Before we start on the day’s adventures, we enter the dining room to find a table spread with red and orange cloths. The smiling staff of our hotel has prepared a cornucopia of breakfast foods: quinoa, oatmeal, maca, or wheat porridge, fresh mangoes, papaya juice, bananas, oranges, crusty white rolls, strawberry jam and strawberry yogurt. Tea in hand, I gaze through the picture window at the distant mountains across the lake.

We leave the hotel in a private combi, a tour bus, to go up the mountain and visit the chullpas of Sillustani, pre-Incan funeral towers high above Lake Umayo. The chullpas were made of immense granite blocks, shaped into cylindrical forms that rise 
as high as 39 feet (12 m). It’s astonishing to see these jigsaw-puzzle structures in which massive stones were fitted together without the benefit of modern lifting equipment.

The scenery is akin to that of Pennine Mountains in Britain, albeit on a much larger scale. Purple heather blooms, and tufts of moorland grass, bleached at the tips, wave in the slight breeze. Alpacas graze alongside sheep, and are accompanied by shepherds holding large crooks.

It’s easy to indulge the fantasy of being lost in time and space, of being back in a purely agricultural society. When we give an eight-year-old shepherdess some fresh fruit, she tells us her name is Vanessa. To me, the highlands seem like a great place for meditation, but I can’t imagine any children I know being content to be so alone with the sky, the mountain spirits and the beasts. I wonder what Vanessa thinks of all day long as she watches the herd.

The view is spectacular; you only have to turn a few degrees to see a different panorama. The air is so clear that you can see for miles to distant peaks, and the gently moving clouds throw shadows on the mountains as though trying out different garments.

The ancestors of the indigenous people here buried their dead high in the mountains, in caves on inaccessible peaks. They believed that the dead would be closer to the spirit of the mountain that way. Families used to visit the graves once a year, bearing food and gifts.

We bring gifts to the living, handing out chalk, pens, flashlights, candy, fruit and sunscreen to kids who have few material goods. In return, they pose for photographs. The cute little girls know that if they clutch a lamb and gaze winsomely at us, we’ll surely take their photograph and give them a few coins. Even if they have never heard of Little Bo Peep, the pose of shepherdess comes naturally to them. They hug the lambs and cradle them as though they were dolls.

On the way down the mountain, our tour guide stops at a shepherd’s compound, which consists of two one-room dwellings linked by a fireplace and surrounded by a wall. The living quarters are low, small, and dark: One for his daughter and her family and one for him, his wife and two boys. The homes are built of dried mud blocks. They remind me of the wattle-and-daub cottages of medieval England.

The only light is from a strip of llama skin that has been coated in tallow, like the wick of a giant candle, dangling from the ceiling. One side of the hut is taken up with a bed in which the family sleeps. The other has a loom, and pieces of fabric and rugs made from llama wool, which the shepherd works on while there is light. His wife’s  communion and bridal shawl hangs there on the wall, a finely embroidered piece that looks incongruous in this smoky setting. The shepherd has also hung up his daughter’s school certificates; it’s the family parlor, with treasures on display.

After the shepherd has demonstrated his deadly accuracy with a slingshot and a rock that could kill a person as well as marauding pumas, he offers us a snack, a wheel of creamy llama cheese looks like Brie but has a chalky texture. This is accompanied by homegrown potatoes, small and knobbly, from the rocky ground. If there’s one thing Peru does well, it’s potatoes, there are hundreds of varieties.

After the repast, the shepherd, who is also a shaman, offers us some gray clay that’s supposed to help with digestion, and then prepares a New Year’s Eve spell for us. He burns herbs and ground powders in a handmade bowl and makes sure we each inhale the fragrance and immerse ourselves in the smoke. He asks where we’re from, and sends blessings bouncing back to different destinations.

I buy a rug from the shaman-shepherd; it reminds me of the ones my grandmother used to make. My new llama rug is beige, brown, and black, the natural colors of the llamas, and it won’t go with my color scheme. Yet, it means more to me than mass-produced ones, since I know that this shepherd has clipped the wool, which is done only every two years, spun it and woven it into a rug. It retains the smoky smell of his house.

The view from the man’s mountain hut is as fine as anywhere in Peru. The concept that the dead are looking down on us not from an intangible heaven, but from a cave in the mountains, is an idea that I like; it makes me feel very close to my late father and grandmother. It’s a fitting end to an old year, and a perfect welcoming of all that is to come in the New Year.

If You Go > Peru Tourism > www.peru.info/perueng.asp

Hello, Buenos Aires

Posted On December 9, 2006

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Visitors to Buenos Aires, Argentina, now have a new service to call upon to learn about the city from an insider’s perspective.

Cicerones de Buenos Aires is a nonprofit organization that helps visitors discover Buenos Aires by pairing them with a trained volunteer tour guide who is native to the city.

The guide will show not only the traditional sights, but will also reveal some of the city’s hidden treasures.

For more information please visit > www.cicerones.org.ar


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