Arriving early in the morning we dropped our bags at our hostel located in the hip neighborhood of La Candelaria. From there we set off to explore the city on foot. Our first stop was breakfast - we opted for a busy restaurant full of locals - and enjoyed some traditional sweet breads with our coffee. Then we hit the Museo del Oro - the Museum of Gold.
The Museo del Oro in Bogota houses a truly astounding collection of golden artifacts. The bottom floor of the museum of devoted to room after room of golden odornments - ear rings and nose rings and bangles - that apparently everyone wore. It is not hard to understand how the Spanish lost their minds (and their humanity) when they encountered such casual oppulence. And then you go upstairs, to the vault, where they keep the good stuff.
The peoples of the New World were master goldsmiths and employed lost wax techniques and created gold alloys that far surpased anything in Europe. In the vault are just a small sampling of the treasures of Colombia and the socieites of the Northern Andes - only the small number that survived Spanish greed. The objects range from abstract animal masks to suits of golden armor to intricate and delicate jewelry - all lustrous and all wonderful.
One of our favorite artifacts was a tiny model, all in gold, of a man on a raft surrounded by heaps of treasure. A model of El Dorado. In the mountains near Bogota lies Lago Guavita, an ancient collapsed caldera filled with startlingly blue water and ringed by green hills. In pre-Colombian times, the Muisca people of this area celebrated important events by anointing their chief in gold dust after which this 'golden man' would take a raft laden with golden offerings into the center of the lake to make offering to the gods. The Spanish, and later the Colombians, have at various times tried draining the lake to extract whatever riches remain at the bottom. In fact, the Museum has a very cool exhibit of sunken treasure recovered from Guavita's depths.
The neighborhood of La Candelaria sprawls around the Plaza de Bolivar - the center of historic Bogota. The narrow Calles and Carreras - all numbered - are lined with shops, churches, restaurants, and museums.
At this time, I think its appropriate to break and relate one of the true guilty pleasures of Bogota: Crepes and Waffles. Nearly everyone we talked to, if they were into food, told us of the wonderful food (including, but not limited too waffles and crepes) at this upscale chain restaurant that awaited us throughout Colombia in the major norther cities. After a month of bland food and a seemingly endless stream of fried chicken in southern Colombia the food at Crepes and Waffles was truly delicious. And almost sinfully inexpensive :) The restaurant in La Candelaria sits opposite the Museo de Oro along Calle 13 and the main floor is just a small ice cream and waffle cafe with a limited menu. We walked in and thought, 'what were people raving about?' but then we went downstairs where a sprawling restaurant occupies the basement of several building above. We took a seat and ordered fresh juice and sparkling water - sometimes it is fun to splash out. With the most amazingly hypnotic food porn playing on the wall, we ordered a decadent meal of rich crepes, followed by both ice cream and waffles. Life is good. We repeated this experience in Medellin and Cartagena and enjoyed every meal. If you should visit Colombia, you should definitely get the crepes . . . and the waffles.
One of the highlights of our rambling walks through the neighborhood was the Museo Botero. Comprised of Fernando Botero's work as well as his personal collection of modern art, the museum allows you to explore the entirety of Botero's exploration of proportion. His works are not in fact, fat, just round and mis-proportioned. Truth be told we did giggle at the sight of a rounded Mona Lisa, a rounded horse, even rounded bananas, but Botero also explored darker themes of death and war. The collection also included beautifully polished bronzes sculpted by Botero. Besides the works of the master himself, the collection includes the art he amassed from friends and peers throughout his prolific career. Wowza.
(Next door to the Museo Botero is the Museo de Arte del Banco de la Republica which houses another collection of art showcasing a range of Colombian artists from colonial times through today.
From there we strolled down the Calle 11 towards Plaza de Bolivar. Further along the street we stopped at La Puerta Falsa. This tiny hole in the wall restaurant is on all the tourist to-do lists and has been in business for something like 200 years serving classic Colombian fare. We tried it . . . and found the watery hot chocolate, weird cheese, and sad Colombian tamale to be not to our liking. (At this point, Annie would like to interject that the tamale was rather tasty, if rustic. She enjoyed the masa studed with garbanzo beans, corn, and a pigs foot.) It was atmospheric as hell.
The other highlight of our time in Colombia's capitol was the street art. Denver is no stranger to murals, however, the Colombian versions feel more raw and more authentic than what you typically see in the States. Street art in Colombia has long been associated with political movements and protests and today it has been embraced by the Bogotanos as both a cultural and aesthetic expression. We decided to take one of the cities' free grafitti tours. We met a group of travelers - including several teachers from the States - early in the morning along with our guide, an energetic young woman armed with an deep knowledge of Colombian street art and a bull horn. We walked for several hours, learning about the various artistic collectives that operate throughout La Candelaria as well as the art's connection with Colombia's continual, and tragic, civil war. Our guide took us to several areas that would have felt sketchy on our own and seeing the graffiti in context made it all the more interesting and moving.