Tag: Architecture

A Visitor’s Guide to Petra, Jordan (Guest Post)

A Visitor’s Guide to Petra, Jordan (Guest Post)

While I’m sorting through my photos and trying to articulate my recent travels in Peru and New York City, I thought it would be a good idea to include a guest post.  This post is from Ketki Sharangpani of Dotted Globe.  Check out her site – she has written about a variety of places and all of her posts include stunning black & white photography. Today, she is providing us with a guide to the famed city of Petra:

Petra is a UNESCO world heritage site in Jordan and is one of the seven new wonders of the world. The rose-red city with its rock-cut architecture has fascinated visitors since its rediscovery in early 19th century. Hundreds of thousands of visitors travel to Jordan to see Petra each year.  As a result, the historical and archaeological site earns the distinction of being Jordan’s most visited tourist attraction.

How to Reach Petra

Petra is in south Jordan, about three hours away from the capital, Amman. Petra is also easily accessible from Aqaba, Jordan, which is a mere two hours away. Many tourists visit Petra as a one day trip from Amman or Aqaba or from neighboring Israel; however, the Petra archaeological site is immense and I recommend a minimum of 1-2 full days to completely understand Petra and the people who once lkived there.

Petra history

Petra was the capital of the Nabateans, an Arab tribe, that settled in the Jordan Valley around the sixth century BC. The city prospered under the Nabateans and was later annexed by the Romans, who built upon the city’s rock-cut architecture.  The Roman expansion of Petra included an amphitheatre, colonnaded streets, and temples. A devastating earthquake in 363 AD led to the abandonment of the city; as a result, Petra was lost to the world. Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, a Swiss explorer, rediscovered the site in 1812. Since then, Petra has fascinated millions of people all over the world.

Petra’s top attractions

The Petra site is immense and visitors need to walk long distances to see all the sights. Horses, horse-carriages, donkeys and camels are available for rent from the local Bedouins.

1. Walk through the Siq

Visitors need to walk through the mile-long Siq, a narrow rock canyon wedged between tall sandstone cliffs, to reach Petra. Partially carved by nature and partially carved by the Nabateans, the winding passage of the Siq features beautiful sandstone patterns on its walls. Nabatean sculptures are engraved in the walls of the Siq; in addition, water conduit systems are built into the sides.

Petra Jordan Siq
The Siq – a narrow gap through which visitors to Petra must pass.

2. The Treasury

Petra’s most celebrated monument is the Treasury. Visitors exiting the Siq get their first view of Petra in the form of the Treasury, a majestic rock-cut façade. An urn, rumored to hide a Pharaoh’s treasure, is at the top of the Treasury. The elaborately carved façade features intricate patterns; most of the details are well-preserved even today. The Treasury is one of the most photographed tourist sites in the world.

petra jordan treasury
The iconic Treasury of Petra.

3. Roman Theatre

Originally built by the Nabateans, the theatre accommodated 4000 people. The Romans expanded the theatre to accommodate 7000 people when the Roman Empire annexed Petra. The theatre is an excellent place to sit and watch the sun set over the spectacular Royal Tombs.

petra jordan roman theater
The Roman Theatre of Petra, as seen from above.

4. Royal Tombs

The Royal Tombs refers to the Urn Tomb, Silk Tomb, Corinthian Tomb, and Palace Tomb. These are the most magnificent tombs at Petra, built for Nabatean royalty. These majestic and intricately carved tombs are opposite the Roman Theatre.  Additionally, they offer breathtaking views of Petra’s city center.

5. Monastery

The Monastery is the largest Nabatean structure in the archaeological park. Visitors can reach the Monastery after climbing a hike consisting of 800 steps. The Monastery, like the Treasury, is another building carved out of sheer rock façade. Visitors can actually go inside the Monastery in order to fully appreciate the grand monument.

petra jordan monastery
The monastery of Petra in Jordan.

6. High Place of Sacrifice

The High Place of Sacrifice is on a cliff top high above the Petra town center. Visitors need to hike the ancient Nabatean staircase to reach High Place of Sacrifice. Along the cliff top, visitors will see hand-carved stone obelisks, rock altars for sacrifices, and a cistern. Because of its location, the High Place of Sacrifice offers sweeping views of the valley.

Other attractions

In addition to the ancient buildings, the site includes many other attractions like the Petra museum and Nabatean museum, both of which display pottery, ornaments, coins, tools and statues excavated there.

The nearby archaeological site of Little Petra, located north of the main site, is also popular with tourists. Little Petra has fewer crowds and offers visitors a more relaxed opportunity to understand Nabatean architecture and sculptures.

Petra By Night takes place on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 8:30 pm. During this event, thousands of candles light up the Treasury and Bedouin music floats through the air.  Visitors can soak up the atmosphere while enjoying a cup of tea. Petra looks magical in the flickering candle-light and this event remains among most popular things to do in the city.

About the Author

Ketki Sharangpani is a travel writer and blogger on a quest to illustrate the world through travelogues & photoessays. Currently, she is basking in the sun and breathing salty air off the Gulf Coast. Read her free 8 Day Jordan itinerary and follow her attempt at captioning the world on Dotted Globe.  Dotted Globe Ketki Sharangpani

Embassy Tours – A Cultural Tourism Annual Event

Embassy Tours – A Cultural Tourism Annual Event

Foreign Embassy Tours

Every year at the beginning of May, Cultural Tourism DC hosts an event called “The Around the World Embassy Tour.”  I have been lucky enough to go in the past, and I went again this year.  I think it is probably one of the coolest free events I’ve ever been to, with the possible exception of the Ceremony of the Keys in London.

On May 6 of this year, 43 embassies representing countries in Africa, Asia, and South America opened their doors and invited the general public in to learn more about their culture and heritage.  The European Union embassies will follow suit and host an open house on May 13.

To give you a better idea of what it’s like, I took a lot of pictures.  Our first stop was the Embassy of Peru.

Peru

Inside, we got to see beautiful Peruvian hand crafted items, sample some Peruvian chocolate, and we got to see the ambassador’s office and conference room.  Peruvian food was available for purchase both inside and outside the embassy, including Pisco sours, empanadas, and Alfajores cookies.

embassy tours peru
Some of the handicrafts in the Peruvian embassy.

Then, outside the embassy, we experienced music and Latin dancing.

embassy tours peru dancers
The dancers outside the Peruvian embassy.

From there we walked up Massachusetts Avenue, aka Embassy Row, and marveled at the beautiful buildings now serving as embassies. The Colombian embassy was ROCKING. Loud party music and bright colorfully-clad dancers attracted everyone’s attention. It also had a line of people that went down the street and around the corner. Having already gotten a late start, we decided to visit the embassies that seemed to have little to no wait to enter. Otherwise, we would have probably only seen two!

The first one we happened upon was Indonesia.

Indonesia

I am not exaggerating when I say it’s the most beautiful house I have seen on this side of the Atlantic. When we walked in, the first thing we saw was the grand entrance.

embassy tours indonesia
The foyer of the Indonesian embassy

(I don’t know about you, but every time I see a place like this, I imagine myself in an evening gown and lots of diamonds, slowly gliding down the stairs to the tune of dramatic-yet-elegant music.  No?  I’m the only one?)

As it turns out, the building is also known as the Walsh Mansion, and it Dates to 1903. At that time, it was the most expensive residence in the city, with a construction cost of $835,000.  The original owner, a Thomas J Walsh, came to this county from Ireland without a penny to his name in 1869. Over the next 25 years, he built up a small fortune through his business pursuits, then lost nearly everything in the Panic of 1893.  In 1896, he took his family to Colorado, and purchased a mine that most thought was of no value. However, it wasn’t long before mine workers struck a massive vein of gold and silver, making Walsh a multi-millionaire.

Walsh’s daughter Evalyn married into the McLean family, which owned The Washington Post.  In 1910, her husband bought the Hope Diamond for her at a cost of $180,000 (that’s $4.6 million in today’s economy).  Over time, rumors developed that the Hope Diamond had a curse on it.  Evalyn Walsh McLean’s first son died in a car accident. Her husband ran off with another woman and eventually died in a sanitarium. The Washington Post went bankrupt, and eventually her daughter died of an overdose, and one of her grandsons died in the Vietnam war. Evalyn never believed the curse had anything to do with her misfortunes.

In 1952 the government of Indonesia purchased the mansion for use as an embassy. Thankfully, they have preserved the beauty of the historic home, including this very large and ornate organ:

embassy tours indonesia
Upper part of the massive pipe organ in the Indonesian embassy.

The pipe organ’s wind system and some of its pipes were located in the basement, making this a two-story pipe organ.  I don’t know what it sounds like, but based solely on its appearance, it is impressive!

The painted ceilings and crystal chandeliers are probably very much like they were before it became the Indonesian embassy.

Embassy tours Indonesia
A doll on the mantle in the Indonesian embassy

A small glassed in walkway connected the residence portion of the house with the offices, which were more modern.  As you enter the office area, you pass by a huge gold bird, the heraldic symbol of Indonesia.

embassy tours indonesia

Our next stop was going to be the Chilean embassy, but the line was incredibly long, so we wandered up the street a little farther and found a performer outside the Korean embassy.

Korea

Just above the heads of the people gathered around to watch, we could see a man walking a tightrope while making jokes via an interpreter. There was also this little statue:

embassy tours korea

This is a Dol Hareubang, which means Stone Grandfather.  They are from Jeju, a small volcanic island off the southern coast of Korea.  Dol Hareubang is a guardian deity, and the people of Jeju erect these statues to ward off danger and harm.

Right next door to Korea was the Kyrgyz Republic, or Kyrgyzstan.

Kyrgyzstan

I’ll be honest.  I don’t know much about Kyrgyzstan, other than that it’s a relatively new country.  It was a very enlightening visit.  First, I learned that Kyrgyzstan shares a border with China. As we made our way through the embassy and looked at the displays, I learned that many people of Kyrgyzstan live in yurts.  We saw scarves and slippers and multiple other woolen items, beautifully made. But their talents do not end there. I thought this painting was just adorable:

Embassy tours Kyrgyzstan

They were also offering shots of a cognac from their country. Nearby, these lovely ladies in traditional native costumes greeted and posed for everyone.

Embassy tours Kyrgyzstan

Haiti

The Haitian embassy was all about art.  Every room we entered had beautiful, brightly colored paintings done by Haitian artists. The one hanging over the fireplace was especially striking.

Embassy tours haiti

And in the back of the house, just before we stepped outside, we saw a beautiful collection of bottles covered in sequins.  Then we exited the house and stepped out onto a gorgeous patio. The biggest wall had an arrangement of metal decorations that was pretty incredible.

Embassy tours Haiti patio

There were tin lanterns hanging all over the place, with designs of dragonflies, and other small animals.

By this time the event was coming to a close, so we started walking back toward the Metro station.  On the way, we passed a stunning display outside the Guatemalan embassy.

Embassy tours Guatemala

 

The white parts were rice, and we guessed that the colored bits were dyed sawdust.  From a distance, it looked like a rug.

After that, we followed the sound of music until we happened upon the embassy of the Dominican Republic.  There were people everywhere – some were in line for food but quite a few were dancing.  It was such an awesome display of living in the moment, anyone watching couldn’t help but smile.

I cannot recommend the Around the World Embassy Tour enough. It’s a great opportunity to learn more about other cultures and see some magnificent art and architecture.  If you’re ever in D.C. on a Saturday in early May, check it out!

An Italian Riviera Village… in Wales

An Italian Riviera Village… in Wales

Do you ever feel as though a vacation on the Italian Riviera is just an impossible dream? Well, if you live in the UK, the experience may be a lot easier than you think. Just go to Portmeirion, the Italian Riviera village located in Wales.

Portmeirion wales
The village of Portmeirion in Gwynedd, Wales

Sir Clough Williams-Ellis designed and built the village of Portmeirion in Gwynedd, Wales, between 1925 and 1975.  He was an architect and environmentalist who wanted to create a functional and attractive private village.  His purpose: to demonstrate how a naturally beautiful place could be developed without spoiling it. As a result, Portmeirion has the perfect combination of natural beauty and stunning architecture.

At Portmeirion, Williams-Ellis paid tribute to the atmosphere of the Mediterranean. While he repeatedly denied claims that Portmeirion was based on the Italian Riviera town of Portofino, he also said, “How should I not have fallen for Portofino? Indeed its image remained with me as an almost perfect example of the man-made adornment and use of an exquisite site.”

Portmeirion wales portofino italy comparison

The Village

At first glace, the village of Portmeirion seems larger than it really is. This effect is achieved by architectural designs that include arches, slopes and varying window sizes. Strolling through the area, you can admire the statues and other whimsical details that fill every nook with interest.

portmeirion wales battery square
Battery Square, Portmeirion

Battery Square contains guest accommodations, an aromatherapy spa and a café with outdoor tables on the cobbles – a great spot to grab a coffee, Mediterranean-style.

The  Hotel Portmeirion is the hub of the village’s quayside.

portmeirion hotel wales
Hotel Portmeirion, Quayside

In June 1981, fire gutted the hotel. It took nearly seven years to restore the hotel to its former glory.  Fortunately, however, the work was so well done that it received a Good Hotel Guide award for “Brilliant restoration of a great hotel.”  In the past, the Hotel has hosted notable people such as H.G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw, Bertrand Russell, and Noël Coward.

Nearby

Outside the main village but within the Portmeirion estate, there is a striking mansion known as Castell Deudraeth.

portmeirion castell deudraeth
Castell Deudraeth

The mansion has a stone façade, tall crenellations and Gothic flourishes.  But don’t let its exterior fool you.  Inside, you will find a hotel with 11 modernized guest rooms and suites.

So, if you fancy a taste of the Italian Riviera without actually going to Italy, maybe you should consider Portmeirion. Admission for a day visit costs £10-12.  Alternatively, you could stay overnight in the Hotel Portmeirion, Castell Deudraeth, or numerous self-catering cottages within the village.

For more information:

60+ Washington DC Free Attractions

60+ Washington DC Free Attractions

Anyone who has been to Washington DC knows that it can be a pretty expensive city to visit.  Most studies rank it somewhere in the top ten list of the most expensive American cities. For someone who is making a non-DC salary and visiting the nation’s capital, the expense of everything can be daunting.

Fortunately, Washington DC free attractions are plentiful.  Here are over 60 places you can explore without paying for admission, listed by neighborhood:

The National Mall Area

Washington DC Free Attractions

  1. Abraham Lincoln Memorial
  2. World War II Memorial
  3. National Museum of American History
  4. National Air & Space Museum
  5. Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden – modern art
  6. National Museum of African Art
  7. National Museum of Natural History
  8. Smithsonian Castle
  9. Washington Monument – currently closed for elevator upgrade – check before you go
  10. National Archives
  11. National Gallery of Art
  12. Multiverse Light Sculpture between National Gallery East & West Buildings
  13. Freer Gallery – Asian art (closed until October 14, 2017)
  14. Sackler Gallery – Asian art
  15. Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
  16. Korean War Veterans Memorial
  17. Vietnam War Veterans Memorial
  18. Thomas Jefferson Memorial
  19. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
  20. American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial
  21. US Holocaust Memorial Museum – free but requires timed tickets March through August
  22. National Museum of the American Indian
  23. National Museum of African American History & Culture
  24. Albert Einstein Memorial
  25. Bureau of Engraving & Printing (free, but reservations required through September 1)
  26. National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden

 

Brookland Area

Washington DC free attractions in Brookland area

  1. Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
  2. Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America

 

Capitol Hill

Washington Dc free attractions capitol hill

  1. National Postal Museum
  2. Library of Congress
  3. US Capitol
  4. US Botanic Garden
  5. Folger Shakespeare Library
  6. Historic Congressional Cemetery

 

Capitol Riverfront

Washington DC Free attractions capitol riverfront

  1. Frederick Douglass National Historic Site
  2. National Museum of the US Navy
  3. Yards Park

 

Anacostia

Washington DC Free Attractions Anacostia

  1. Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens
  2. Anacostia Community Museum

 

Upper Northwest

Washington DC Free Attractions Upper Northwest

  1. National Cathedral

 

Georgetown

Washington DC Free ATtractions Georgetown

  1. C&O Canal Paths
  2. Old Stone House (the oldest home in DC)
  3. Theodore Roosevelt Island
  4. Rock Creek Park

 

Penn Quarter/Chinatown

Washington DC Free Attractions Penn Quarter Chinatown

  1. National Portrait Gallery
  2. Smithsonian American Art Museum
  3. Lunder Conservation Center
  4. Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site
  5. Archives of American Art Gallery

 

Dupont Circle

Washington DC Free Attractions Dupont Circle

  1. Anderson House

 

Woodley Park

Washington DC Free Attractions Woodley Park

  1. National Zoo

 

Foggy Bottom

Washington DC free attractions Foggy Bottom

  1. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts (free tour)
  2. Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center (free performances)

 

Downtown

Washington DC Free Attractions Donwtown

  1. White House Visitor Center
  2. White House tour (request through Congressional representative at least 3 months in advance)
  3. Renwick Gallery – American contemporary art

 

Shaw

Washington DC Free Attractions Shaw

  1. African American Civil War Memorial
  2. African American Civil War Museum

 

H Street NE

Washington DC Free Attractions H Street NE

  1. US National Arboretum
  2. National Bonsai & Penjing Museum – inside National Arboretum

 

Arlington, Virginia (technically not DC, but just across the river)

 

  1. US Air Force Memorial
  2. US Marine Corps Memorial (aka Statue of Iwo Jima)
  3. Arlington House, former home of Robert E Lee
  4. Arlington National Cemetery
  5. National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial

 

As you can see, there are plenty of Washington DC free must-see attractions… and a few that are a little off the beaten path.  With so many choices for things to see and do at no expense, Washington DC can be an affordable vacation destination after all.

 

The World in Miniature: Six Great Dollhouses from Around the Globe

The World in Miniature: Six Great Dollhouses from Around the Globe

It’s All in the Details

Ever since my childhood, I’ve been a little fascinated with dollhouses. There is something magical about seeing a slice of everyday life shrunk down into miniature. And the more details there are, the more magical it becomes. Here are five amazing dollhouses from around the world that are on my bucket list to see, plus one I’ve already seen.

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Top Ten Things to See in the Rest of Peru

Top Ten Things to See in the Rest of Peru

Ten Fantastic Peru Destinations

The first time I planned to go to Peru, I noticed that most people asked the same question when they found out where I was heading: “You’re going to Machu Picchu?” Like that’s all there is of interest in Peru!  While Machu Picchu is magnificent – it is, after all, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World – there is so much more to see and do in Peru! Here are the top ten Peru destinations that aren’t Machu Picchu – but are just as amazing:

1.  The Nazca Lines

These are a series of large ancient (500 BC – 500 AD) geoglyphs in the Nazca Desert of southern Peru. The figures vary in complexity, from simple lines and geometric shapes to designs of animals, such as birds, fish, llamas, jaguars, and monkeys, or human figures.  The largest figures are up to 1,200 feet long!

hummingbird nazca lines Peru destinations
The Hummingbird, one of the animals depicted in the Nazca Lines of Peru.

A few caveats:  the Nazca lines are pretty much in the middle of nowhere, so there isn’t likely to be much else to do once you’ve seen them. Also, you can only see them from above, so you will need to book a short sightseeing flight for this Peru destination.

2. Lake Titicaca

The mountain lake with the funny name lies between Peru’s Puno Region and the country of Bolivia. At 12,000+ feet, it is the highest navigable lake in the world. The lake contains several “Floating Islands,” which are small man-made islands constructed by the Uru people from layers of a cut reed that grows in the lake. As of 2011, about 1,200 Uros lived on an archipelago of 60 artificial islands.

Arch at Taquile Lake Titicaca Peru destinations
View of Lake Titicaca from the island of Taquile.

Be sure to visit the island of Taquile, which features pre-Inca ruins and a tradition of beautiful hand-crafted items. It also makes an ideal location for stargazing as there is very little light pollution at night.

3. Trujillo & Chan Chan

Trujillo is located on the Pacific coast, in the northwestern part of the country. It is considered one of the primary cultural Peru destinations due to its association with prominent writers, dances, festivals, gastronomy, etc. Three miles to the west of Trujillo lies Chan Chan, the archaeological site and former capital of the Chimu civilization. It is the largest pre-Columbian city in the Americas, and the largest adobe city in the world.

chan-chan adobe ruins Peru destinations
The ruins of the Chimu capital – Chan Chan

The Chimu inhabited the area from roughly 900 AD until they fell to the Incas around 1450 AD. Because Chan Chan is basically built from mud, the site has suffered some erosion, and there is a serious concern that climate change could destroy what is left.  Therefore, if you’re interested in visiting, you might want to do so sooner rather than later.

4. Huascarán National Park

Situated in the Cordillera Blanca, the world’s highest tropical mountain range, the center of this park is Mount Huascarán, which rises to over 22,000 feet above sea-level.

huascaran national park Peru destinations
The rugged beauty of Huascarán National Park

Hundreds of glaciers and lakes in the park include the shrinking Pastoruri Glacier and the brilliant blue Llanganuco lagoons. Trails lead to the high-altitude Laguna 69, known for its turquoise waters. The park is a haven for pumas, Andean condors and spectacled bears.  If nature is your thing, you should definitely put Huascarán National Park on the top of your list of Peru destinations!

5. Lima’s Historic Center

In the capital of Peru, you will find a beautiful historic center with many places of interest. The Church & Convent of San Francisco, for example, is a stunning example of colonial architecture that also boasts a 25,000 volume library and some spooky catacombs.

catacombs San Francisco lima peru destinations
An artful display of skulls and bones in the catacombs of San Francisco

There is also the Presidential Palace, which you can tour.  Alternatively, you can stay outside and witness the changing of the guard. In addition, you might want to see the tomb of conquistador Francisco Pizarro at the Cathedral of Lima, take in the beautiful courtyards at the convent of Santo Domingo, and/or look for ornate wooden balconies on the older buildings in the city. There are many fascinating sites in the capital for anyone who enjoys history, art, or architecture.  Since Lima is the port of entry to Peru for most travelers, it can easily be paired with your other Peru destinations.

6. Iquitos

Iquitos is a Peruvian port city and the country’s largest jungle town. Surrounded by water on one side and thick Amazon rainforest on the rest, the only way to reach Iquitos is to either fly there or travel by boat. While there, you can take a trip into the jungle and can view wildlife such as monkeys, alligators, giant lily-pads, baby caimans, anacondas, boas, tarantulas, and more.  (Just make sure you are using a reputable tour guide and not a scam artist!)

victoria lilies amazon rain forest peru destinations iquitos
The giant lily pads of the rain forest near Iquitos

Alternatively, you can partake in an Ayahuasca ceremony.  Ayahuasca is a powerful psychedelic brew made from local plants and used by shamans for thousands of years.  It seems like something that could be a little risky, though, so please be careful if you do!

7. Colca Canyon

This massive canyon located about 100 miles northwest of the city of Arequipa is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, and has more diverse scenery. The Andean condor calls the canyon home; you are likely to get an up close view of them soaring past the canyon walls if you visit here.

colca canyon peru destinations
Colca Canyon, Peru

The town of Chivay, located in the canyon, is the site of hot springs. Elsewhere, visitors can see the Infiernillo Geyser.  There are numerous archaeological sites as well, including 6000-year-old rock art that depicts the domestication of alpacas

8. Paracas National Reserve

The reserve is located about 165 miles south of Lima on the Pacific Coast, and is home to an abundance of wildlife like sea lions, dolphins, and many birds, especially near the water’s edge.

paracas national reserve peru destinations pelicans
Pelicans at Paracas National Reserve

The Paracas Reserve contains the largest concentration of birds on earth. The terrain is diverse as well,  spanning desert, ocean and islands. In addition to the wildlife, visitors will enjoy red sand beaches, a museum of ancient artifacts from the Paracas culture, a necropolis, and a geoglyph called the Paracas Candelabro.

9. Chiclayo

Located in northern Peru, Chiclayo was once the home to the Moche civilization, who were prolific pre-Columbian artists.  The Lord of Sipán is the most famous archaeological discovery to come out of the area – he was the first of several mummies discovered in 1987. Amazingly, the tomb was completely intact and did not appear to have been disturbed at all.

lord of sipan peru destinations tomb archaeology
A replica of the Lord of Sipan’s tomb.

Much like ancient Egyptians, the mummy was buried with treasures, animals, and other people. As a result, the Lord of Sipán is known as “The King Tutankhamun of the Americas.”

10. Huacachina  

If you’ve ever wondered what a real-life oasis in the desert looks like, go to Huacachina and see for yourself. The city is built around a small natural lake in the desert.

huacachina oasis sand dunes peru destinations
Huacachina – an oasis in the Peruvian desert.

Called the “oasis of America,” it serves as a resort for local families and also as an attraction for tourists who want to try sandboarding on the massive dunes. Other popular activities include dune buggy rides, making this one of the favorite Peru destinations for people who don’t mind sand.

So as you can see, Peru has a lot more to offer tourists than just Machu Picchu. If you’re planning a trip there, why not take a side trip to visit some of the other destinations? There’s something for everyone in Peru!

 

Machu Picchu for Non-Hikers

Machu Picchu for Non-Hikers

Is seeing Machu Picchu without hiking even possible?

Recently, I learned that most people who visit the Inca ruins at Machu Picchu do so at the culmination of a two- to five-day hike on the Inca Trail.  Said trail goes through both the bug-infested jungle and rugged mountain terrain.

Um, no.

No, thank you.

I learned from my first trip to Peru that altitude can really kick my butt, and surgery on my Achilles tendon three years ago has left me unable to walk for more than a few hours. I can’t possibly be the only one for whom this multiple-day trek on foot is impractical, if not impossible. What about people with young children in tow? What about people who, due to injuries or age, just don’t have the stamina to walk through rugged mountain terrain for several days? Are we out of luck? Do we need to resign ourselves to the fact that they only way we will see Machu Picchu is through someone else’s photos?

Thankfully, the answer is no. You can see Machu Picchu without hiking. It just takes a little more planning in the way of logistics, and in all honesty, more money. Are you ready to plan your trip to Machu Picchu? I know I am, so let’s get started…

Cusco

First, let’s talk about the places you will travel to or through in order to get to Machu Picchu. Cusco is a city of about 435,000 in southeastern Peru. Regardless of where you are beginning your journey, you will most likely get to Cusco via Lima. The flight from Lima is about 1 hour and 15 minutes, and there are at least 20 flights every day. There is generally not a huge price difference between booking straight to Cusco or booking to Lima and then making a separate reservation to Cusco. If you want to do some sightseeing in Lima and you have the time to do so, you could book your trip to Cusco separately.

I recommend spending a few days in Cusco to get acclimated to the higher altitude. (Cusco has an elevation of 11,000 feet.) Beyond that, Cusco happens to be a great destination in its own right. Inca walls topped with colonial Spanish architecture, people dressed in traditional Peruvian garb, ruins dating from Pizarro’s conquest of the Inca, and many unique museums are among the things you can see there.

One of the must-see Cusco museums is Museo del Centro de Textiles Tradicionales de Cusco, located at Av Sol. No. 603. This free museum inside El Centro’s textile store features a gallery containing displays of traditional Quechuan and Andean textiles. The museum explains the historical significance of the textiles and the techniques used to make them. You can also buy high quality, authentic textiles here.

Plaza-de-Armas-Cusco Machu Picchu without hiking
The Plaza de Armas (town square) in Cusco.

Aguas Calientes

From Cusco, you will go to Machu Picchu Pueblo, also called Aguas Calientes.  There are multiple ways to do this. Here are a few possibilities but as always, you should check to make sure all services are running prior to your travel day:

  • Cusco to Aguas Calientes:  From Cusco, travel by car approximately 25 minutes to the Poroy Station. From there, take a bus to Belmond Hotel Rio Sagrado.  Take the Hiram Bingham Train to Aguas Calientes. The entire journey will take about 5 hours. **The Hiram Bingham is the top-of-the-line luxury train and is quite expensive.  As of this writing, it is the only train operating a bus+train service from Poroy.  Additional services are expected to run from Poroy after April 2017.**

    hiram-bingham train from Poroy to see Machu Picchu without hiking
    The Hiram Bingham train
  • Cusco to Ollantaytambo and Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes: From Cusco, travel to Ollantaytambo by taxi, minivan, or by bus. Taking a taxi or minivan will take about 90 minutes. Going by bus will add an extra hour to the journey, but it is considerably cheaper. Once in Ollantaytambo, you can sightsee a little if you’d like. It is the site where the Incas retreated after the Spanish took Cusco. When you are ready to move on, take a train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes. This train ride will take about 90 minutes.

It is important to get your train tickets and admission tickets for Machu Picchu as far in advance as possible. Under no circumstances should you wait to buy your tickets the day before you want to travel.

Once you’re in Aguas Calientes, you can either proceed straight to Machu Picchu, or stay the night and plan to go see Machu Picchu the next morning. I recommend the latter, with one caveat. As with most towns set up near major tourist attractions in remote areas – Grand Canyon Village comes to mind – everything will be far more expensive than it should be.

If you want to go immediately to Machu Picchu, you can take a short walk and get a bus. The busses depart every 20 minutes, from 5:30 AM to 3:30 pm.

Map of Aguas Calientes for seeing Machu Picchu without hiking
The route from train station to bus stop in Aguas Calientes.

As with the train, if you’re planning on spending a night in Aguas Calientes, you should book accommodations well in advance.  There are about 15 different hotels in the little town, but that doesn’t mean many will have vacancies.

I recommend getting out of bed early and being ready to catch the first bus that leaves at 5:30 AM, which means getting to the bus stop around 5:00 AM. I know, it’s brutal for folks like me who aren’t morning people, but it isn’t as though you’re doing this every day. Getting there early will allow you to be one of the first people at the site.  That ensures that you will get better photographs with fewer tourists in them. If you’re lucky, you may also get to see the sun rise over the Incan ruins.

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Sunrise at Machu Picchu

The bus to Machu Picchu takes about 20-30 minutes and involves a lot of zigzagging around the mountain. Consider yourself forewarned if you’re prone to carsickness.

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The bus route from Aguas Calientes to the Machu Picchu entrance

Machu Picchu

The bus from Aguas Calientes drops you off right at the entrance to the Machu Picchu ruins. From there, it’s a fairly flat five minute walk to the ruins where you have an excellent view. Once in the ruins, there are steps up and down; however, you can do as much or as little walking as you want.

And again, booking in advance is an absolute necessity.  Machu Picchu tickets are NOT sold at the entrance gate, and they are limited to 2500 per day. Advance purchase tickets are available from the official government website (www.machupicchu.gob.pe). Can you imagine traveling all that way only to be told you can’t get in? Don’t let that happen to you!

Also, bring your passport to Machu Picchu with you. You will need it to get in.  And you can get it stamped, which is pretty cool.

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Machu Picchu passport stamp

Some things to consider when determining the best time to go:

  • High season is May to October
  • The site is especially busy during periods of national holidays – roughly from July 28 to August 10
  • Solstice days (June 21 and Dec 21) are also busy – everyone descends on the ruins for a glimpse of the dazzling effects of the sun’s rays.
  • The rainy season is November to March.  During this time, you are likely to get rain for brief periods during the day, and clouds obscuring the site in the mornings.

Once you’re there, walk at your own pace and see as much or as little as you want to see. You will get little in the way of printed materials telling you what you’re looking at, but guides are available to hire on site for about $30/two hours. Alternatively, you can bring a guide book with you.

Points of Interest

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Map of Machu Picchu Points of Interest

Once you get through the main entrance, there is a path up to the left that takes you to the spot above the ruins, near the Caretaker’s Hut and Funerary Rock. This is where you will get the classic view of Machu Picchu that you see on so many postcards. If you are here early enough for sunrise (6:30-7:30am), you should do this first.

Afterward, explore as much or as little as you want. Some of the points of interest are only accessible by steep paths and/or stairs, but you will have all the time you need if you arrived early, so pace yourself. Some of the major areas within the ruins are:

  • Temple of the Sun (also called the Torreón) has extraordinary stonework, the finest in Machu Picchu, with large stones that fit together seamlessly. However, it is accessible only by a steep set of stairs, and entry inside the temple is not permitted. I would skip this unless you’re feeling particularly energetic – there are other areas with impressive stonework that are not as difficult to reach.
  • Below the Temple of the Sun, there is a section of cave called the Royal Tomb, although no human remains have ever been found there. It contains a meticulously carved altar and series of niches that produce intricate morning shadows.
  • To the north, just down the stairs that divide this section from a series of dwellings called the Royal Sector, is a still-functioning water canal and series of interconnected fountains. The main fountain is distinguished by both its size and excellent stonework.
  • Back up the stairs to the high section of the ruins is the main ceremonial area. The Temple of the Three Windows has views of the Andes in the distance across the Urubamba gorge. This is likely to be one of your lasting images of Machu Picchu, so it should be on your short list of places to visit within the ruins.

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    The Temple of the Three Windows
  • Just behind the Main Temple (to the left if you’re facing the Temple of the Three Windows) is a small cell, termed the Sacristy, renowned for its exquisite masonry. It’s a good place to examine the way these many-angled stones (one to the left of the doorjamb has 32 distinct angles) were fitted together by Inca stonemasons.
  • Up a short flight of stairs is the Intihuatana, also known as the “hitching post of the sun.” It is a carved rock or a type of sundial, which in all probability was an astronomical and agricultural calendar.
  • Follow a trail down through terraces and past a small plaza to a dusty clearing with covered stone benches on either side. A massive, sculpted Sacred Rock fronts the square. This area likely served as a communal area for meetings.
  • To the left of the Sacred Rock, down a path, is the gateway to Huayna Picchu, the huge outcrop that serves as a dramatic backdrop to Machu Picchu. Each day, 400 people are permitted to climb Huayna Picchu.  I’m assuming that, if you’re reading this article, it’s not something you would be keen on doing.  🙂
  • Returning back down the same path (frighteningly steep at a couple points) is a turnoff to the Temple of the Moon, usually visited only by Machu Picchu die hards who don’t want to miss a single thing. The path takes about 1 to 1 1/2 hours round-trip from the detour. I don’t recommend pursuing it.
  • The lower section of Machu Picchu consisted mostly of residential and industrial buildings. The most interesting part of this section is the Temple of the Condor. Said to be a carving of a giant condor, the dark rock above symbolizes the bird’s wings and the pale rock below quite clearly represents its head.

Exploring Machu Picchu is not just for hikers, backpackers and mountain climbers. So plan your trip and go see it! The mountains of Peru are nothing short of awe-inspiring, and the ghostly remains of the Inca civilization are unforgettably beautiful.

Russia’s Hermitage Museum

Russia’s Hermitage Museum

Six Things You May Not Know About the Hermitage Museum

The state Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, is one of the oldest and largest museums in the world. Catherine the Great founded the Hermitage in 1754 and it has been open to the public since 1852. In addition to its stunning architecture and beautiful works of art, the museum has a fascinating history. Here are six secrets of the Hermitage.

Secrets of the Hermitage #1: It’s really big.  Like huge.

It covers 765,567 square feet and contains over 1 million works of art, over 1 million numismatic objects, over 770,000 archaeological artifacts, and nearly 14,000 pieces of arms and armor. There are 2.7 million exhibits and displays in all. I’m thinking it’s probably not the sort of place you want to try and see in just a couple of hours.

Secrets of the Hermitage #2: It isn’t just a building.

The museum is actually a complex of many buildings, including the Winter Palace, which was the main residence of the Russian tsars.

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Interior of the State Hermitage Museum

Catherine expanded the museum beyond the palace to have additional buildings erected, creating the Hermitage Complex. The Russian rulers hosted all kinds of festivities in these buildings, which helped the Hermitage garner a reputation as not only a dwelling place for the Imperial family, but also as an important symbol and memorial to the imperial Russian state.

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Portrait of Catherine the Great by Fyodor Rokotov

Secrets of the Hermitage #3: Its initial pieces were art rejects.

The King of Prussia rejected the initial collection of artwork that started the Hermitage. The first pieces (225 or 317, there are differing accounts as to how many) obtained by Catherine the Great were assembled by an art dealer named Gotzkowsky. He put the collection together for Frederick II, King of Prussia, who was not impressed and did not want them. Frederick’s loss was Catherine’s gain: that collection included 13 works by Rembrandt.

Secrets of the Hermitage #4: Art can be addictive.

Catherine didn’t stop after that initial purchase. In her lifetime, she acquired 4,000 paintings from the old masters, 38,000 books, 10,000 engraved gems, 10,000 drawings, 16,000 coins and medals, and a natural history collection filling two galleries. Competitive art collecting was popular in European royal court culture at the time of her reign, and Catherine was an enthusiastic collector. Her art collection enabled her to gain European acknowledgment and acceptance, and to portray Russia as an enlightened society.

Secrets of the Hermitage #5: Special precautions were taken in WWII.

Art treasures from the museum were evacuated in World War II. Officials feared that the artwork would be lost in the event of an attack, so items from the collection were taken from the museum to the train station. Two trains then carried art treasures off into the Ural Mountains for safekeeping. It turned out to be the right call: two bombs and a number of shells hit the museum buildings during the siege. Once the war was over, the collections were returned unharmed.

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Protecting the art treasures from the State Hermitage Museum.

Secrets of the Hermitage #6:  Crazy cat … museum?

A population of about 50-60 cats lives in the basement of the Hermitage museum. In 1745, Elizabeth of Russia required cats in the palace in order to keep the mice at bay. In times past, the cats would freely roam through the galleries of the museum.  These days, however, they are only permitted in the basement or on the museum grounds. They have their own press secretary, Instagram account, and three caretakers.  You can even adopt a Hermitage cat!

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The Hermitage should definitely be one of your top five things to see in Russia – where else could you see such a vast collection of art in a lavish setting like a palace? Just be sure to allow plenty of time for your visit.

The address for The Hermitage Museum is 2 Palace Square in St. Petersburg.  You may purchase tickets up to 180 days in advance online in US dollars for $17.95 (one day) or $22.95 (two day). However, admission is free on the first Thursday of every month for all visitors, and it is free daily for students and children. Closed on Mondays, New Year’s Day, and May 9.

Rievaulx Abbey & Rievaulx Terrace

Rievaulx Abbey & Rievaulx Terrace

In doing my research for our UK vacation, I ran across a lot of abbey ruins: Whitby, Fountains, Rievaulx, Guisborough, St. Mary’s, Bolton, and Tynemouth, just to name a few.

Why so many? I’m so glad that you asked!

Well, Henry VIII had been married to Queen Katherine of Aragon for over 20 years. However, for all that time, Katherine had been unable to provide him with a male heir. When the lovely Anne Boleyn caught his eye, he decided to divorce Katherine and marry Anne instead. The Catholic Church refused to allow a divorce. Henry’s spiritual advisers found a Biblical loophole for him in Leviticus 20:21 – “If a man marries his brother’s wife, it is an act of impurity; he has dishonored his brother. They will be childless.” Katherine had previously been wed to Henry’s older brother, Arthur, who passed away at a young age.  Henry sought an annulment by claiming that his marriage to Katherine had never been valid.

The Catholic Church still said no, they would not dissolve the king’s marriage. Henry decided that if the church wouldn’t give him what he wanted, he would take it himself. So in 1531, he declared himself the Supreme Head of the Church in England. Prior to that time, the church functioned independently from the throne. By declaring himself Head of the Church, Henry VIII had a monopoly on all of the power in the land.

Henry ordered his investigators to evaluate the monasteries for necessary reform. Following reports of idleness, greed, and immorality, Parliament passed an act in 1536 to permit closing all monasteries with an income less than £200 (376 monasteries in total). Then, in 1539, larger monasteries were ordered to be dissolved – 645 in all. The monastery buildings were stripped of their doors, lead, timber, glass, art and literature, gold plate, silver, gold and jewelry. Livestock was seized. Land was sold to the wealthy. If buildings were not sold, they were used as quarries where individual stones were sold off to local builders. Truly, it’s a wonder that anything is left standing, yet there are monastery ruins all over Britain.

While I personally wouldn’t have minded visiting all of the monastery ruins within a 30 mile radius, I faced the all-too-familiar restrictions of time, money, and family members. So I resolved to visit just one and admire all the others from afar. The question was, which would be the best one to visit?

From the moment I first saw this breathtaking picture on Pinterest, I wanted to visit Rievaulx Abbey:

rievaulx abbey as seen from rievaulx terrace

But Fountains Abbey in Ripon – with the Studeley Water Gardens – sounded equally lovely. Rievaulx or Fountains? I can be pretty indecisive at times, and I was really having a hard time choosing one over the other. So I turned to my favorite Settler of Disputes, Google.

Other people had asked the same question, as it turned out, and many people had chimed in with a strong preference. The winner, with very few exceptions, was Fountains Abbey. I plugged Fountains Abbey into my itinerary and moved on to the deciding the next stop on our tour of northern England.

Except.  

As time passed, I felt a little resentful about not being able to see Rievaulx. As the date of our trip approached, the feelings grew. Until finally, I came to my senses and remembered my own advice to travelers:  don’t let conventional wisdom dictate what you do and see on your vacation.

I crossed off Fountains Abbey and replaced it with Rievaulx, and that’s where we went. Happily, I can say that I don’t regret it for a moment.

When approaching the Abbey, you drive through a great little town called Helmsley (more on that later), and you reach a fork in the road. One side leads to Rievaulx Terrace, the other to Rievaulx Abbey. Rievaulx Terrace provides amazing views of the Abbey (I got the shot above at Rievaulx Terrace). National Trust manages Rievaulx Terrace. English Heritage, on the other hand, manages the Abbey. It’s a bit inconvenient, having to go to two locations and pay two separate admission fees, but one could argue that you can’t fully appreciate the Abbey unless you see it from a distance, and hands down, the Terrace is the best place to do that.

We went to the Terrace first. I was there mainly just to take photographs, but it has some other interesting features as well. First, it’s important to note that the Terrace was built in 1758 for the specific purpose of showcasing the Abbey (and impressing guests, of course).

Guests would alight from their carriages at one end of the Terrace near the Doric Temple.  This structure resembles a scaled-down version of the mausoleum at Castle Howard, a few miles away. They would then walk about a half a mile across the lush green carpet of grass covering the promenade before reaching the Ionic Temple, inspired by the Temple of Fortuna Virilis in Rome. That temple was actually a banqueting house, with facilities for food preparation in the basement.

We started at the banqueting house and the guide gave us a brief introduction to the property and its history. The interior consisted only of one large room, with the central table still set as if for a meal. It also featured elaborate ceiling paintings and ornate furniture.

rievaulx-terrace-banqueting-house abbey

From there, we strolled down the promenade. There were art installations along the way, which I thought were a bit out of place (very modern) and also completely unnecessary. When you have such a spectacular view, why bother with a statue of a horse made from wire?

wire-horse-sculpture at rievaulx terrace

I happily snapped pictures of the Abbey at each opening in the vegetation. The one at the top is by far my favorite as you can see most of the Abbey as well as the surrounding hillsides, sheep in a field, and the red roofs of some nearby houses. I just wish it had been a bit sunnier when we were there.

Finishing at the Terrace, we drove down to the Abbey. Oddly, you can’t see much of it from the car park and visitor center. But once you pay for your admission and go out onto the grounds, it dominates the scene.

Cistercian monks built Rievaulx Abbey in 1132.  The monks were ingenious in matters of farming and industry, and prospered there during the 12th and 13th centuries. In fact, Rievaulx Abbey became one of the greatest and wealthiest in England, with 140 monks and many more lay brothers.

However, they went through a rough spell in the late 13th to mid-14th century – sheep got mange, people got the Plague, and debts on their building projects began to build up. By 1381, there were only fourteen choir monks, three lay brothers and the abbot. By the 15th century, the monks were no longer the austere pious men from the early days of the Abbey. They had become privileged and self-indulgent.

Henry VIII order the destruction of Rievaulx Abbey in 1538. At that time the grounds held 72 buildings occupied by an abbot and 21 monks, attended by 102 servants, and an income of £351 a year. Henry ordered the buildings rendered uninhabitable and stripped of valuables such as lead. Today, all that remains are the stone walls.

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In addition to the massive ruins, you can tour a wonderful museum that contains some remnants of the Abbey. From gargoyles to stained glass fragments, they are on display in the museum, along with interesting information about the history of the Abbey.

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rievaulx-abbey-gargoyle head museum

rievaulx-abbey-statues museum

There is so much history and beauty at this site – I highly recommend it for anyone with an appreciation of architecture or history. (Maybe I’ll visit Fountains Abbey the next time I’m in Yorkshire!)

Rievaulx Terrace is near the town of Helmsley, Yorkshire YO62 5LJ. It is open seasonally, so check to make sure it will be open when planning your visit.

Rievaulx Abbey is also close to Helmsley, with a postcode of YO62 5LB. Telephone 01439 798228. Days & hours vary by season, so check the website or call when planning your visit.

Alnwick Castle, Northumberland

Alnwick Castle, Northumberland

The History

The first part of Alnwick Castle was built in 1096.  The Percy family has owned and lived in the castle since 1309.

A bit of an aside for my fellow fans of Tudor history:  When Anne Boleyn first caught King Henry VIII’s eye, she was romantically involved with a Henry Percy.  In fact, they were betrothed, although Henry failed to ask permission from his father and from the king before popping the question.  Young Henry’s father (the 5th Earl of Northumberland) did not find Anne a suitable match for his heir.  In fact, he considered her the daughter of a mere knight, not a member of the nobility.  He refused to give his permission for a marriage between Henry and Anne, and called for Henry to return home to Northumberland at once.  Henry packed up, headed home, and left poor Anne at court with a broken heart.

The current (12th) Duke of Northumberland, Ralph Percy, has held the title and land since his elder brother’s untimely death by drug overdose at age 42. The current Duchess of Northumberland was responsible for the renovation of the beautiful Alnwick Garden, which also draws thousands of visitors each year.

The castle is big – in fact, Windsor Castle is the only inhabited castle in the UK larger than it.  It is impressive from the moment you approach the main arch:

alnwick castle filming location for harry potter movies northumberland

Passing through to the outer bailey, it seemed even bigger.

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The castle offers many tours with varying themes, as well as activities in which visitors can participate.  We took the “Alnwick Castle in Film” tour, which highlighted the various ways we have seen this castle before. (Quite a few, as it turns out!)

The Filming Locations

Alnwick Castle’s inner courtyard served as the courtyard of Nottingham Castle in the 1991 film, “Robin Hood:  Prince of Thieves” starring Kevin Costner and Morgan Freeman.  Fun fact:  There is a very ornate exterior light in the courtyard that does not fit the medieval time period of the film.

alnwick castle northumberland filming location robin hood prince of thieves

In the courtyard shots, the film crew covered the light to conceal it from view.  However, when Robin and the priest fought and the priest jumped out of the window, they had to show him having fallen into the courtyard below.  In that shot, you can see part of this light peeking out from under the brown cloth meant to obscure it.  Just look for the green spikes at the bottom of the screen when the camera cuts to the priest’s lifeless body on the stones below.

More recently, Alnwick Castle doubled as Brancaster Castle in the final season of “Downton Abbey.”  Lady Edith’s love interest, Bertie Pelham, inherited the property and the title Marquess of Hexham.   Here you can see the cast in the library.

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And another shot of Bertie Pelham and Henry Talbot in the Dining Room.

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The collection of canes on the left side of the photo is stunning.  The handle of each cane is an intricately hand-carved animal. The level of detail was amazing!

In the first two Harry Potter films, Alnwick Castle was the filming location for many of the Hogwarts scenes, including Quidditch practice with Madame Hooch.

alnwick castle northumberland filming location harry potter movies quidditch practice

alnwick castle northumberland filming location harry potter movies hogwarts

But these are not the only appearances Alnwick Castle has made on film.  It has also served as a filming location in the first Blackadder series starring Rowan Atkinson, the movie “Elizabeth” starring Cate Blanchett, and the Shakespearean miniseries “The Hollow Crown” starring Tom Hiddleston.  There are many others as well.  You can read the whole list on the Alnwick Castle web site by clicking here.

The State Rooms

After we went on the filming location tour we toured the State Rooms.  By far, the library was my favorite. I could have spent hours in there, just looking around. I saw a multi volume set of The State Papers of Henry VIII on one shelf. What I would have given to be able to look through them!  There were two floors of non-stop bookshelves – about 16,000 volumes in all.  If I lived there, I doubt I would ever leave the library!

Other rooms were almost as impressive.  I particularly liked the brilliant green wall covering in the Dining Room, and the impressively set, very long table.

alnwick castle dining room northumberland

The Grounds

The grounds of the castle were also enjoyable. The famous British landscape architect, Lancelot “Capability” Brown, was responsible for their design.  He did such a marvelous job, one Duchess of Northumberland ordered the removal of a connecting wall of the castle because it interfered with her view of the landscape.

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We had a lovely day at Alnwick Castle and Alnwick Garden.  Highly recommend this for history buffs, film enthusiasts, and families.

Alnwick Castle in Alnwick, Northumberland NE66 1NQ.  Telephone +44 01665 511 100.  The castle is open late March – late October.  Hours vary.  Check the web site or call for more information when planning your visit.