By Ellyette Iverson
Contributing Writer

This is the third article in our 2014 Week of Photo Journals: Changing Perspectives. Check back each day this week to see more beautiful photography and travel accounts from UC San Diego students.

Cusco, Peru. The location has been surrounded with an air of mystery, adventure and exoticism since it was made famous by Hiram Bingham’s ‘discovery’ of Machu Picchu in 1911. National Geographic later published photos from his voyage, which introduced readers around the world to a new sensational imagery. Today, the obsession continues, and tourists flock to Cusco in order to experience the wonder and awe brought forth by this discovery made over 100 years ago. But is it the same? Not quite. Cusco, which was once the capital of the great Inca Empire and one of the most powerful cities in the world, has become a place of rapid modernization and pop-up tour agencies, often hiding the magical wonders that quietly exist outside of the “tourist circuit.” As a student living in Peru, I had the opportunity to observe and discovery the other Cusco—the one filled with both modern and ancient stories. It was this Cusco that introduced me to the true Cusqueños who live there and let me see the wonders that were not so obvious at first glance.

Ceremonial rising of the flag. Plaza de Armas, Cusco.

Every Sunday, local government officials gather in the main square to honor various groups and organizations, as well as raise the cities flag with pride. Ironically, the city shares the same flag as the Gay Pride movement in the United States, and this connection has not been received well by the dominant “machismo” community of Cusco. Here, the rainbow signifies the origin of the Inca Empire, when, according to Inca myth, the founding emperors chose to settle in the valley of Cusco after a thrown staff sank deeply into the fertile grounds and a rainbow appeared overhead.

Commuter Bus, Sacred Valley (2 hours outside of Cusco)

One of the most entertaining subjects among travelers is the Peruvian dependence on buses for almost all transportation needs. In town, kombis, or small buses, are often packed to the brim with locals. While convenient and cheap, some of the buses can be extremely uncomfortable and at times dangerous. Nevertheless, bus rides always tend to be colorful experiences. Unlike our dreary public transportation system in the United States, bus drivers in Peru take pride in their vehicles, and often go to great extents to decorate and customize them with religious symbols and soccer accessories.

Glass Shard Balustrade. San Blas, Cusco

As you climb further into the hills surrounding the city of Cusco, the views become more spectacular while the architecture becomes less appealing. These barrios, or “neighborhoods,” tend to consist of the most basic homes with people often reusing materials for construction purposes. Broken glass bottles are often found atop walls. The other popular security measure is to plant cactus directly into the mud brick walls. While somewhat crude, these uses can be effective and at times even beautiful.

Dia de Los Muertos Flower Market.

While Americans busy themselves with preparations for Halloween, Peruvians begin preparing for two national holidays which take place on Nov. 1 and 2—Dia de Los Vivos and Dia de Los Muertos (the Day of the Living and the Day of the Dead). These holidays are meant to celebrate the cycle of life, starting with a celebration of life and ending with a remembrance day for those who have passed on. During this time, it is very common to see flower markets appear along the streets and plazas, with almost every local purchasing floral offerings for their deceased.

Peruvian Tuk-Tuk. Sacred Valley.

Just outside of Cusco lies the Sacred Valley, a lush agricultural area that sits along the bottom of a magnificent valley. Small towns dot the countryside, and transportation ranges from the public buses and taxis to the tiny tuk-tuks, or covered motorcycle cabbies, which act as the main traffic in the small roads crisscrossing through the towns. These can get especially colorful because drivers often compete for best designs in a unofficial competitions.

Hylephila peruana, Parque Privada de Santa Maria

As the city of Cusco grows at an increasingly rapid pace, ecosystems in the vicinity of the city have quickly disappeared. Places like the Parque Privada de Santa Maria have attempted to conserve sections of wildlife space in outlying neighborhoods. However, these areas are constantly faced with financial problems and lack of resources, holding their position as the only conservation park in Cusco on very shaky ground. This area is home to a variety of plant and animal species endangered in the area, including this moth, whose larvae was once eaten as a delicacy by the Inca nobility.

Huaca Cinca, Cusco.

Throughout Andean history, natural formations have held very important religious roles among the people. The fact that so many were dependent on the land for survival made certain landmarks very obvious places of worship. When the Spaniards arrived in Cusco, they calculated that the Inca Empire oversaw at least 3000 of these “shrines,” which ranged from fresh water springs to massive rocks and large obscure trees. Today, many of the huacas have been forgotten or destroyed. But some have lived on, such as this boulder that overlooks the city. While these historical sites are virtually unknown to tourists, they are carefully looked after by the local Cusqueños who live around it and hold as a very important place in the history of Peru.


This week Prospect Journal is publishing a series of photo journals about international travel – join us as we explore a diverse set of countries by reading our “Changing Perspectives: Journalism Through an International Lens” series!

By Dilara Onur
Contributing Writer

The charm and beauty of Christmas in Vienna and Prague is something I urge every avid traveler to experience. The scale upon which these two beautiful Eastern European cities celebrate the holiday season makes them well worth the visit, regardless of religious affiliation. Christmas markets are arranged throughout the main city squares where people line up to drink mugs full of steaming spiced wine, eat sugary confections, and buy a variety of holiday mementos to prepare themselves for the winter season. The streets are ornamented with thousands of lights that make evening strolls extraordinarily festive. And the cold weather brings lovers arm in arm and families bundled up together.

As I, the over eager tourist, was lucky enough to be amidst all this holiday cheer, one thing became strikingly apparent: we all hold on to tradition. The winter holiday season holds different significance for each person as customs vary by religion, culture and nation. Despite this, all of them involve a commonality that helps mold and define these seasonal celebrations to their true shape: tradition. The end of the year marks a time for change and the hope for progress. However, it seems that no matter where we come from, what we believe in, or what language we speak, we all cling to some tradition as a means of security and warmth—something that makes even the coldest winter nights delightful and merry.

Below are some of my favorite moments captured during my winter wonderland adventure—giving a small glimpse of the holiday season in Vienna and Prague. They do, in my eyes however, evoke the spirit of these beautiful cities transformed for the winter and the end of the year celebrations; a spirit of tradition that I was fortunate enough to observe and enjoy.

Stephansdom. Vienna, Austria

St. Stephen’s Cathedral is emblematic of Vienna. It is the seat of the archbishop and one of the main tourist attractions of the city. Although damaged by fire due to WWII, this beautiful Cathedral holds great religious, cultural and artistic significance. The mosaic tile roof is a distinguishing and unique part of this church. A building with a powerful presence, the cathedral truly embodies the heart and soul of the city.

St. Stephen’s Kaleidoscope. Vienna, Austria

As you go inside St. Stephen’s, you are given a whole different perspective. I am not sure if the colorful lighting was a seasonal or year-round decoration, but it was indeed like walking through a giant kaleidoscope as the colors dance vibrantly on the cold, grey walls of the cathedral. Hundreds of locals and tourists alike lined up in the cold at midnight Christmas Eve to attend mass for a distinctly beautiful ceremony.

Old Town Square. Prague, Czech Republic

One of two main squares in the city, Old Town square, or Staroměstské náměstí, exudes historical beauty and dates back to the 12th century. This is a just a slice of the incredible 360º view from the Astronomical Clock tower. Shown is the Tyn Church and part of the Christmas market down below. An enormous tree, numerous food shacks and a concert stage fill the square during this time of the year. The roof structures on this church, known as spires, can be seen jutting out into the sky all over Prague.

Looking Out. Prague, Czech Republic

An observant guard at the Prague Castle can be seen wearing a ceremonial winter dress uniform. Said to be the largest castle in the world, the Prague Castle has rich political history, as leadership over the nation was transferred multiple times, including from the Kingdom of Bohemia, to the Habsburgs and finally to the current Republic. The establishment of the Republic in the early 20th century led to the creation of the castle’s guard force.

Christkindlmarkt Rathausplatz. Vienna, Austria.

The largest and most popular Christmas market in Vienna is the one stationed in front of Rathaus, the city hall. Excited crowds of locals and tourists come to enjoy a stroll through markets—like this one—to enjoy music, food and good company. Popular food items include puncshe (hot spiced alcoholic drink), maroni (roasted chestnuts) and bratwurst (sausage hot dogs). Other items to be sold include souvenirs, clothing, Christmas decorations and crafts—like the lanterns shown in this picture.

Connect the Dots. Vienna, Austria

Perhaps the most affordable and easiest way to experience the holiday spirit was to just be outside. Every street, in Prague as well, had some sort of decoration—be it lights, wreaths or tinsel. The chilly weather did not prevent anyone from enjoying a nice stroll through the illuminated city streets, reminding me of my childhood neighborhood during the holidays. One of my favorite shots of the decorations shows the huge red spheres hanging in one of the streets leading to St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Kind of looks like some sort of life-size Pacman game, no?

Keep it Rolling. Prague, Czech Republic

The Christmas markets of Prague would delight any and all of your senses, but the smell of a warm, sweet pastry could not go unnoticed. Trdelnik is like the Czech’s version of Cinnabon, with half the guilt and all the satisfaction. Dough is wrapped around a large metal spool, which is then cooked and toasted on an open-flame rotisserie. Once ready, the spool is removed and rolled around in a coating of cinnamon, sugar and crushed almonds. The pastry is then removed from the spool, leaving a hollow, cup-shaped, portable, pull apart, must-have-over-and-over-again confection.

Love Lockdown. Prague, Czech Republic

There is something about the wintertime that brings people together—be it the climate or the endless holiday celebrations. Prague emulates the romance of many other European cities, with cobblestone streets illuminated by iron lanterns ¬— adorned with picturesque statues. Walking along the oldest and most visited bridge in the city, the Charles Bridge, at sunset confirmed this fact. Upon the railings I saw these locks, engraved or marked with the initials of a pair of lovers. Not as impressive as the Bridge of Love in Serbia or the Pont des Arts in Paris, perhaps—but definitely something that warms your heart.

Founding Father. Vienna, Austria.

Vienna, as the birthplace of such celebrated composers as Beethoven, Mozart and Strauss, is a historical and cultural hub for classical music. Concert halls, plazas and statues all pay homage to the various musicians and composers that lived in the city, like this famous statue of Mozart residing in Burggarten. Classical music’s influence on the nation can be noticed anywhere from local bakeries—in the form of a delicious layered cake called Mozart torte—to souvenir shops selling music note mugs or Austrian Airways playing Beethoven’s 5th Symphony before take-off.

Blue Tyn-sel. Prague, Czech Republic

In my experiences abroad, I have learned one thing about sightseeing: everything you visit in the day, you also have to see at night. The Tyn Church, especially in its Christmas splendor, was magical after the sun set . Upon seeing the church at night, my family noted, “It is like Disneyland… but real.” A gothic church with incredible presence stands as one of the main edifices in the Old Town Square. An interesting fact about the church: it houses the oldest pipe organ in the city.

Glühwein. Vienna, Austria

My brother just could not get enough of glühwein, a traditional Christmas mulled wine at the Viennese Christmas markets. Red wine heated and flavored with cinnamon, ginger and other spices fills the air with a soulful aroma. And the vendors even let you keep the mug! The mug here shows a drawing of this particular market: Weinachtsdörfer at the Maria Theresa Square, which is situated between Kunsthistorisches Museum and the Museum of Natural History.

Maroniblüte. Vienna, Austria.

Chestnuts (maroni) are not just for roasting on an open fire. Served in a chocolate waffle cone bowl, this decadent dessert comprises a fluffy chestnut cream and a marzipan-like topping. We ordered this traditional, seasonal dessert at the elegant and popular Café Landtmann. Accompanying maroniblüte with a cup of milchkaffe, a café latte equivalent, makes this is the perfect holiday treat. Famous guests like Hillary Clinton and Paul McCartney have been known to visit Café Landtmann for their scrumptious pastries.

As a first generation American, I catch myself struggling to maintain the traditions my family taught me. But with this trip, I learned that a tradition is just as adaptable as it is strong. Traditions can indeed exist in a modern setting. We don’t have to push away ideals or experiences that don’t strictly adhere to tradition. Instead, modern ideals and experiences can modify the tradition to make it more appropriate to its present application. In my travels through Vienna and Prague, I observed historical and cultural traditions flourishing in the modernity of my world. Rather than tainting these traditions, the modern setting appeared to only enhance their special value. Walking in the cold, indulging in sweets, and enjoying time with family are traditions I anticipate for the end of the year. But wandering through Christkindlmarkt Rathausplatz, taking a sugary trdelnik to-go, and documenting my family in beautiful a Eastern European backdrop are adventures that made this holiday season even more special.