Trees Take over a Temple: Ta Prohm, Cambodia

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Before my trip to Cambodia, I knew about Angkor Wat (of course!).  But, I did not know about Ta Prohm.  I had seen pictures of it but did not know that it was a specific temple close to Angkor Wat and, much less, its name or extent of the wonders it contains.  I did hear about it more concretely from someone who had been to Siem Reap before right before I got there so it got on the “itinerary” of the temples to visit while in Siem Reap.  It is hard to say that it is my favorite over Angkor Wat or Bayon.  In fact, it is hard to pick any of those over the others; each has something that feels unique enough to lift it in my “estimation.”

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Amazing place

Ta Prohm’s claim to fame, if you will, is how trees have taken over the ruins of this former temple complex from the 12th/13th century.  We are able to see this because the temple has been left in the same condition it was found (for the most part; some work has been done to stabilize structures, make it safe for visiting, and enabling access).  This uniqueness earned it a spot in UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites and rightly so!

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Entrance

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Chatting with our guide

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The most famous trees growing through the structures are Tetrameles nudiflora, which is like a mouthful for a non-botanical person like me (so I had to look it up!).  They create surreal images – and surely, if the trees were cut, many of the structures would collapse!  These trees grow super tall and the roots look like the buttresses of pre-Renaissance European cathedrals and can be quite gigantic as one of my pictures shows.  Banyan trees can also be found.  These trees grow their roots downward from where the see landed (not directly on the ground but, say, on a tree or building) and they end up enveloping the “host” tree or structure, eventually seemingly strangling the host.Ta Prohm, Siem Reap, Angkor Wat, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, explore, adventure, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7 Ta Prohm, Siem Reap, Angkor Wat, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, explore, adventure, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7 Ta Prohm, Siem Reap, Angkor Wat, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, explore, adventure, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7 Ta Prohm, Siem Reap, Angkor Wat, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, explore, adventure, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7 Ta Prohm, Siem Reap, Angkor Wat, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, explore, adventure, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7Ta Prohm, Siem Reap, Angkor Wat, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, explore, adventure, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7, banyan Ta Prohm, Siem Reap, Angkor Wat, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, explore, adventure, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7, banyan

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Yea, these trees are HUGE!

What to Know

  • It will be hot and humid as the day progresses so starting with sunrise is ideal though it makes for a short sleep night…
  • Visiting Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Ta Phrom, and a couple of other smaller sites, starting at sunrise, took us until noon/1 PM at our speed of walking, stopping to take photos, etc.  That is quite a long day already considering hotel pick-up (for us anyway) was at 4:45 AM.
  • Bring water, snack and sunblock!

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In-and-Out: The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, CO

Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, lodging, architecture, photo, Samsung Galaxy S7

I headed to Denver to see friends and as luck would have it, an afternoon in Estes Park was in the books for me.  I would have about 3 hours to spend in Estes Park so I checked TripAdvisor for some quick ideas on what to see while there.  I had driven through Estes Park multiple times a couple of decades ago when I spent two summers in Boulder, Colorado to get to the Rocky Mountain National Park but I had never stopped in Estes Park.  I had no memory of it.

So, The Stanley Hotel came up in the search and it offered a 1.5 hour tour.  My local friends briefly shared about the hotel so I made up my mind and bought my ticket ($23 since I was not a guest at the hotel) for the 11 AM tour.

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Grand hotel indeed!

I made it with barely a second to spare before the tour began.  Scary Mary saw me walk in and asked if I was Mr. Pino.  I said yes and immediately asked her if I could run to the restroom – I could not fathom an 1.5 hours waiting to go…  (did I share too much?)  She allowed the extra minute and I was glad.

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Scary Mary introduces us to the tour

Scary Mary, her self-proclaimed name, was funny and quirky and made for a great tour guide mixing deep knowledge about the place with humor and the dramatic touch when it came time to talk about ghosts and other supernatural stories.

The Shining and The Stanley Hotel

The hotel is more famous not for the quaint story of its birth but because of its ties to the movie “The Shining” with Jack Nicholson.

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Art based on The Shining

It seems the hotel was the inspiration Stephen King needed when he stayed at The Stanley back in 1974.  The hotel was about to close for the season but King convinced the staff to let him and his wife stay overnight.  Maybe they pranked him when they placed him in the haunted room 217… (We also hear Jim Carrey should be asked about his stay in this room…)

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Haunted Room 217

While the hotel was the inspiration for the movie, it was not the actual location where that movie was filmed.  Most was filmed in a studio set and exterior shots were done at a lodge near Mt. Hood.  Of lesser fame than The Shining, perhaps, is that the hotel was featured in “Dumb and Dumber” – especially a run up its main staircase by the two principal characters of the movie!

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The main staircase

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Looking down the main staircase

A little of the history of the place

The tour begins with the story with how Freelan Oscar “F.O.” Stanley and his wife Flora got to settle there.  The Stanleys were an East Coast couple who had taken a trip to Colorado to help F.O. recover his health.  He was pretty much almost at the brink of death as he left Denver for a time in the mountains at Estes Park.  He made an incredible recovery and proceeded to build the hotel there as a way to have something comparable to the East coast life they were used to when they came out West, a place they had grown to love.

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Registration counter in the lobby with photos of F.O. and Flora (I presume…)

There are a few stories about supernatural events but those are best heard from Scary Mary, not me :)  But I will say there is a special force right smack in the middle of this staircase on the 217-side of the building…  Some kind of vortex if I understood right.

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The vortex staircase

The Stanley Hotel today

The lobby clearly retains a feel for the past with the heavy woods and furniture arrangements.  While the setting of the hotel is spectacular, and the lobby and its spaces feel special, the main guest room floors do feel a bit drab.

Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, lodging, architecture, photo, Samsung Galaxy S7, lobby

Lobby

Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, lodging, architecture, photo, Samsung Galaxy S7

Guest room floor

The maze in front of the hotel was an ‘add’ to the grounds after throngs of visitors kept asking about the maze that shows in The Shining.  The hotel owners, I suppose, decided to play along and installed one (in its early stages of vegetation growth at the moment…).

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The maze at the front of the hotel

Back to the interior, the hotel has good touches in the decoration using vintage artifacts from an automobile to mirrors, large and small.  Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, photo, tour, mirror Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, photo, tour, lamp, light fixture Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, photo, tour, piano Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, photo, tour, automobile, vintage car

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Old fixture for fire hose

The views from the front porch – and I presume, the rooms – are pretty spectacular with the town below and the mountains beyond.  A key selling point to the hotel, I am sure!

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Views of the Rockies from the front porch

The bar is pretty cool in its design, decor and feel.  There is an outdoor restaurant in the back.  I did not get to try neither the food nor the drinks so that may be left to a future visit!  I would love to stay there in the dead of winter sometime!

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I leave you with some other photos of the main building and the second guest room building.Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, lodging, architecture, photo, Samsung Galaxy S7 Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, lodging, architecture, photo, Samsung Galaxy S7Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, lodging, architecture, photo, Samsung Galaxy S7

 

 

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The Carmel Mission: Quiet and Beautiful

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During a recent business trip to San Francisco, I made a visit of a few days to friends who live near Campbell, CA.  I took the Caltrain down to San Jose – an easy and relatively cheap (at around $9 one-way) way to get out of San Fran towards Silicon Valley.

While their kids went to school, my friends and I made a trip to the coast where, among other things, we visited the town of Carmel.  No Clint Eastwood sightings – bummer!  But we decided to check out the Carmel Mission after having lunch in the charming downtown area.  I had been to the Santa Barbara Mission over a year ago so I was curious on how this one would compare.

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Entering the mission grounds

As luck would have (is it really luck??), this was two days after the canonization of Fr. Junipero Serra who worked, died and is buried at the Carmel Mission.  The timing was definitely great; I only wish Pope Francis had canonized him where he is buried!

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Fr. Serra is buried along with others in the altar area

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St. Junipero Serra looms large!

The Carmel Mission is smaller than the one in Santa Barbara but by no means less charming or interesting.  As with probably most missions, the center of the mission is the church with a cemetery next to it.  Usually there is a vast space or courtyard in the mission and buildings, many of them much newer used for different functions.

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Rudimentary graves

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Along the church’s wall

As you enter, you are properly warned that you could be at risk for an earthquake.  Only in California would the obvious need to be stated in the form of a warning!

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Be warned!

As you can see, it was a clear, beautiful day (I assume this is typical for California) and I am so glad we got to enjoy visiting the mission at such a historical time!

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Glorious skies!

Colonia del Sacramento: Uruguay’s Historical Gem

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When I started to plan my trip to Argentina for my trek, I thought maybe I’d arrive a couple of days early and do something other than eat and walk in Buenos Aires.  Don’t get me wrong, nothing wrong with those things!  Those are indeed very noble activities in my book in that great city.  But I was looking to just do something different.  I looked at one-day or half-day tours, and I looked at museums and other similar attractions.  One thing caught my eye due to my eternal wanderlust:  Uruguay was just across the river and it would be really easy to cross by boat.

I was aware of Montevideo and Punta del Este.  The latter seemed to require an overnight.  Montevideo seemed a tad boring but I thought, “why not?  it’s the capital?”  And then I ran into Colonia del Sacramento (or simply, “Colonia”).  I had never heard of this place.  Quick research led me to find out it was listed in “1,000 Places to See before You Die” so I had to learn more.

Funny how history runs its course…

Colonia del Sacramento was established by the Portuguese across the river from another small town called Buenos Aires in the late 17th century.  The town was part of a ping-pong match in terms of who ruled it:  Spain, Portugal, Spain, Portugal, …, Brazil, and then independent Uruguay.  Must have been exhausting!  The modern town’s old quarter is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has a population of roughly 25,000 folks.

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French map dating from the 1740s made into a mural

Getting to Colonia del Sacramento

Certainly one can get there by road from Montevideo but, if you are in Buenos Aires, the Buquebus ferry leaving from Puerto Madero is quite efficient and convenient.  There are fast ferries that make the crossing in one hour (the river, at that point, is really no longer a river but the sea meeting the river) and slow-poke boats that make the crossing in three hours.  Needless to say, three hours on a boat when I can do it in one was a no-brainer….  The one hour ferry was at 8:30 AM so that was a bit of a sacrifice since there was a line or two to make at the port… But it was the right choice.  On the way back, since we wanted to have dinner in Buenos Aires, we took the ferry that arrived around 6 PM.  One thing to mind is that there IS a time zone difference between Uruguay and Argentina (crazy).

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The walkway to the ferry in the port in Buenos Aires

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Welcome to Uruguay!

Oh, and another thing to mind is that you MUST bring with you the reciprocity fee receipt for Argentina (if you are a U.S. citizen)… When you leave Uruguay, right at the port in Colonia, you will go through BOTH Uruguayan and Argentine immigration officers.  When you get to the Argentine officer, if you do not have it, you are in a for a nervous wait to see what the officer will do with you.  No, it did not happen to me, but it happened to a friend.  Note:  the other friend hanging with her volunteered to the officer “Oh, I don’t have mine either” – lol!  Somehow, the officer did not care about her but did about the other one.

The town – ruins

The thing to see in Colonia is the old quarter.  When you exit the very modern port facility, you go out of the port and go on that same street uphill and, eventually, you will hit the main street where you will make a left and walk for like five minutes before you hit the old quarter.  (There is a tourism info office outside the main building of the port but I did not go in.)

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The old quarter is on the left side of the map

The old buildings have been beautifully kept up or maintained and the quarter is easy to walk around in.  The old quarter is in a peninsula so you can’t go too far without hitting the water except in one direction (as you can see in the map above).   The old quarter has ruins of fortifications from those centuries when the European powers were trying to take control of the river.  You can also see parts of the foundation of the former Portuguese governor’s house and ruins of the old convent.  Most of these ruins are, one could say, ruins of ruins but, nevertheless, they help understand how the town was set up and defended.

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Ruins of San Francisco Convent in front of the lighthouse

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Ruins of Bastión de San Miguel

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Ruins of the Portuguese Governor House in the Plaza de Armas

The town – buildings and structures

There old church, the Basilica del Sagrado Sacramento (Basilica of the Sacred Sacrament) was heavily restored starting in the 1950s.  It is simple in its design and decor.

Colonia, Sacramento, Uruguay, colonial, UNESCO, World Heritage, Places to See, travel, photo, basilica, church

Basilica del Sagrado Sacramento

Colonia, Sacramento, Uruguay, colonial, UNESCO, World Heritage, Places to See, travel, photo, basilica, church

Inside of the basilica

The town is clearly oriented to visitors from Uruguay and abroad with many cafés, restaurants, gifts shops, and art shops.

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Local shop

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Outdoor café near the basilica

Colonia, Sacramento, Uruguay, colonial, UNESCO, World Heritage, Places to See, travel, photo, café

Eclectic café chair and table

But the best this charming town offers is just the simple yet beautiful architecture of the streets in or near its old quarter.  A peaceful setting graced by history and architecture!

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House near the lighthouse

Colonia, Sacramento, Uruguay, colonial, UNESCO, World Heritage, Places to See, travel, photo, architecture

Shop in Calle de los Suspiros

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House in Calle de los Suspiros

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Detail of the local architecture by the Plaza de Armas

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Home

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A local street right outside the heart of the old quarter

Lunch time in Colonia!

Of course, we stopped at a local restaurant for lunch where I enjoyed an incredible pasta dish and we all enjoyed trying Uruguayan red wine – an unexpected treat (later followed by a cup of Freddos ice cream!)

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Lunch was this delicious butternut squash gnocchi in a pancetta cream sauce!

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Surprised at how good the local wine was!

A resident enjoying summer…

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Dog days of summer in Colonia are awesome!

 

 

The Presidio: A Different View of California. Thank goodness.

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I have been to California a few times but mainly to the areas around San Francisco and, less so, around Los Angeles (plus a business trip to Sacramento).  This past summer, though, I got to sample some of the “other” Californias.  I got to spend a few days in lovely Santa Barbara.  It captivated me and makes me want to explore other places in California that I have always heard of or read about but never make the time to visit.

The Old Mission, of which I already wrote, was an incredible sight and site.  Another one that was less imposing but just as powerful was the Presidio.

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The church

The Presidio was built in the late 18th century as a military facility (not sure if “fort” is too strong a word).  The original site was a large square but now only half of it remains.

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A street runs through it now…

The center has a model that helps envision the total original site and it pains me that the part of it was lost.  The good news is that one of the remaining structures is the second oldest building structure in California.  The entire site is now a California state park so it is protected – and that is good.

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Looking from the street towards the visitor center

We met a gentleman who works at the site who gave us a quick overview (for free!) of the site before we paid and walked in to explore the site.  Of course, a lot of restoration has taken place.  The decades can’t be kind to a building made in those days and with those materials (and given the frequency of quakes in the area).  But I walked around, it all felt as it must have been so long ago.

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The grounds around the Presidio

Presidio, Santa Barbara, California, history, Spanish settlement, architecture, photo, travel, Olympus

The grounds behind the church

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Room in the Presidio

The outer walls of the precinct are thick and there were private spaces for the homes of the more senior members of the staff, even with space for small gardens.  Along with the typical military spaces (like the military parade grounds), there was also a church located well inside the square.  The church is plain but has been nicely restored at some point as you can see in the following pictures.

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The church’s altar

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The back of the church

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Looking towards the front of the church

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Detail of the wall and ceiling of the church

Presidio, Santa Barbara, California, history, Spanish settlement, architecture, photo, travel, Olympus

Baptismal font with a plaque of ceramic with names of those baptized in the mid 19th century

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I have to say that with all the glitz and glam that California has become synonymous with, and the accompanying Hollywood trash, it is refreshing to experience a different California, one that makes evident how this land was explored and how it was settled by a European power.  Yes, I am a history geek!

I Have a Mission for You: in Santa Barbara!

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Among the many beautiful things to enjoy in Santa Barbara, California, one of my favorite ones is the Old Mission.  Its architecture, its setting, its history all make it a neat place to visit but what I like the most is that it is still in use by the monks and the locals; in other words, it is not just a museum.

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Approaching the Mission on a beautiful California day

The Santa Barbara Mission is located on what seems to be the outskirts of town but it really takes no time to reach it from the center of Santa Barbara (a very easy place to get around with a car or a bike).  It was established by the Franciscan monks around 1768 as one of the last of a series of missions founded along California by the order.  As with most places where Europeans (or people of European descent), there was contact between the new arrivals and the locals; in this case the Chumash Indians.   The Santa Barbara Mission represents the longest continuous presence of the Franciscans in the United States.

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The Mission is more than the church and the museum; also a mausoleum and retreat center

The structures that have been on the site and are now have gone through changes and repairs, especially due to damage from earthquakes over its lifetime and after a period of civil administration of the site when the structures were not maintained.  Not today:  the structures look well kept up and on a beautiful day (which seems to be every day in Santa Barbara), the Mission is perfect for photos!  Admiring the facade of the mission is not hard.  The ample space outside allows one to step back and soak the whole structure in.

Once inside, one can enjoy the beautiful inner courtyards and outdoor “hallways” of the mission.

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Inner courtyard at the Mission

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I could sit on a rocking chair here and rock away all day!

At some point, one enters the cemetery area on the side of the main church before entering the church itself, following the sequence proposed in the self-tour which, at $7, was a great deal!  They also have led tours which seem would be best to better grasp the history and meaning of the Mission.  Unfortunately, we had less time than the tours require so we did the self-guided version.

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The cemetery outside of the church, near the mausoleum

The church itself has the feel of what makes a place of worship one where I could focus and reflect and pray.  It is simply beautiful.

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Main altar at the church

The Mission is not just a place to go check out if you are in Santa Barbara:  it is one of the reasons you should GO to Santa Barbara!

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The church

Petra, Jordan: History on the Rocks

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I first went to Petra, Jordan back in 1998 on a day trip from Sharm-el-Sheikh at the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt.  If you know the lay of the land, that may sound impossible.  Well, not if you take a flight from Sharm-el-Sheikh to Aqaba, Jordan and then hop on a bus.  That’s exactly what I did.  I did not have the luxury of time so it was an either do it on a day trip or not do it.  Since I could not predict the future, I had to go for it to be sure I got to see Petra in case I didn’t get to come back.

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Headed to Petra

Petra, Jordan, roads, travel

Great vistas along the way

Return to Petra

Fast forward 15 years and I return to this necropolis-turned-town-turned-movie-setting-turned-massive-tourist-site.  I was thrilled at the opportunity to return and explore it on more depth.  You see, in my first visit, I decided to walk my way in which is great in many ways but it eats away precious time for someone on a day trip there from Sharm-el-Sheikh.  The second time, while I did walk in, I walked faster knowing time was precious and I rented a donkey to take me up to save time.  That was a great idea except that the donkey preferred the edge of the path on the way up rather than risk hitting itself against the rocks at the other side of the path, making this rider a little bit worried about the way down!

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Donkey in the shade – smart!

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Giddy up!

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Look Ma, no hands!

Thanks, Nabateans

Petra is amazing due to how it has evolved over time but it was the Nabateans who deserve the credit (after God, of course) for this place.  Certainly, the landscape and topography are thanks to the Maker but what happened after that really starts with the Nabateans who carved a necropolis out of these beautiful rocks.  Others, like the Romans, continued to develop the site to what we know now.

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Some of the tombs around Petra that later peoples used for other purposes – like commerce

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The Romans put Petra to good use

More than the Treasury

You can see evidence of amazing early engineering when you see the channels that were carved into the rock to capture the rare rainfall that rolled down canyon walls and take it into a natural “holding tank.”

Petra, Jordan, Nabatean, archeology, ruins, history, necropolis, ancient site, exploring, Middle East, travel, photos, Canon EOS Rebel, donkey, ilivetotravel

Channel that collected rainwater from the canyon walls and directed to a well

Also impressive are the facades of the tombs built into the rocks such as the Royal Tombs and other areas like the Monastery and the very famous Treasury, which many think to be what the Indiana Jones movie showed.  In reality the Treasury is more of a facade.  Be sure to get a guide who explains to you what you are looking at as the Treasury, for example, shows evidence of how it was carved out of the stone.  And be sure to go all over!

Petra, Jordan, Nabatean, archeology, ruins, history, necropolis, ancient site, exploring, Middle East, travel, photos, Canon EOS Rebel, donkey, ilivetotravel, Royal Tombs

The Royal Tombs from a distance

Petra, Jordan, Nabatean, archeology, ruins, history, necropolis, ancient site, exploring, Middle East, travel, photos, Canon EOS Rebel, Royal Tombs

Some of the Royal Tombs

My advice if you are visiting Petra and don’t have but a day or two is to use a donkey for some of the climbs (unless you want or need the exercise) and then walk and explore – this way, you will maximize what you will see from this one-of-a-kind place and there is PLENTY to see and admire about this unique site.

Petra, Jordan, Nabatean, archeology, ruins, history, necropolis, ancient site, exploring, Middle East, travel, photos, Canon EOS Rebel, Treasury, ilivetotravel

My family “came along” with me to Petra!

 

During my second visit to Petra, I was a guest of the Jordan Tourism Board.  That notwithstanding, the stories I share were my real experiences and nothing else.  As they always are!

Charming and Historical Lafayette Square in D.C.

Washington D.C., DC, Cutts-Madison mansion, Lafayette Square, architecture, history, Samsung

One of the key sights in Washington, D.C. is the White House.  That symbol of the U.S. Presidency is indeed a big draw even if it is so inaccessible to most of us, the people.  One can be forgiven for losing sight of what is around the White House as the draw is too strong.  However, the square just across from its north side is an interesting place to explore.  The street that separates it from the White House’s north lawn used to allow for cars as recently as the late 1990s.  However, it is now pedestrian only which is quite alright with me – that allows tourists being absent-minded while taking photos without the risk of being hit by a car.

Enter, stage north, Lafayette Square

The square is known as Lafayette Square and is bounded by Madison Place and Jackson Place (on the east and west sides, respectively) and by Pennsylvania Ave. and H. St. (on the south and north sides, respectively).  I used to work a block down from it and enjoyed eating my lunch there a few times.

Washington, DC, Lafayette Square, Andrew Jackson, park, White House, photo, Olympus

The statue at the center of Lafayette Square is NOT Lafayette but, instead, Andrew Jackson

The buildings around the square were almost lost had it not been for some key people intervening, among them the First Lady at the time, Jacqueline Kennedy.  The federal government had bought the land and was planning to demolish all the beautiful buildings around the square to build, guess what, likely-monstrous government buildings.  As a lover of history and architecture, I am so thankful these buildings were preserved even if other work was done to adapt and “blend” them with the new buildings they were to connect to.  Their existence helps capture how the areas near the White House likely looked in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Needless to say, these buildings are mercifully protected now.

Jackson Place – on the western end of Lafayette Square

The buildings on the western side are owned mostly by White House for different purposes such as a place for former Presidents to stay when they visit.  But they have incredible pedigrees with past important and famous folks owning or visiting these places.  Their style is quite distinct from those across the square in Madison Place.

Jackson Place, Lafayette Square, Washington, DC, history, architecture, Olympus

The buildings at Jackson Place

Jackson Place, Madison Place, Lafayette Square, Washington, DC, White House, Olympus

Looking across Lafayette Square from Jackson Place towards Madison Place (National Courts is the big red building)

Decatur House on Jackson Place

The Decatur House on the corner of Jackson Place and H Street does deserve special mention.  While it looks pretty “blah” from the outside, it is one of the oldest surviving homes in Washington, D.C. having been built in 1818.

Decatur House, Washington D.C., DC, Lafayette Square, Jackson Place, architecture, history, Van Buren

Decatur House on the corner of H St. and Jackson Place

It was built for a naval hero named Stephen Decatur (fought naval wars in North Africa, fought in the War of 1812, and others) but was subsequently home to other illustrious Americans like Henry Clay, Martin Van Buren, and others.  The structure behind it housed the slaves some owners had.  It is said to be one of the few examples of slave quarters in an urban area that remains.

Though I worked literally a short block away, I never visited it – crazy, huh?

Madison Place – on the eastern end of Lafayette Square

The buildings along Madison Place have more charming façades than those on Jackson Place.  These buildings were adapted to fit it with the new National Courts Building (the big red monster behind them in the photo).  Actually the National Courts Building was designed to not take attention away from the old buildings by being built tall and just pretty much red bricks.  I have to agree that it does meet that objective as it helps frame them.

The one on the corner with H Street, the Cutts-Madison mansion, was First Lady’s Dolley Madison’s residence until she died in 1849.  The house was built in 1819 and it has been changed by later owners (for instance, the front door used to face Madison Place but it was switched to H St. in the mid 1800s).

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Dolley Madison’s home with the National Courts Building behind it. To its right, the Cosmos Club Building.

Other buildings on this street include the Cosmos Club Building and the Benjamin Ogle Tayloe HouseThe latter was built in the 1820s back when this area was still mainly trees and shrubs.  It almost became the official residence of the Vice President of the U.S.  And for three years in the late 1950 and early 1960s, it was the headquarters of NASA.  Who knew.

H Street – the northern side of Lafayette Square

This side of the street, currently housing the U. S. Chamber of Commerce (built in the 1920s, government style) and the Hay-Adams Hotel, used to have houses as Madison Place and Jackson Place have.  Unfortunately those disappeared much earlier in the 20th century when, perhaps, people were not as inclined to think about heritage preservation.  Lost in that shuffle where the Corcoran House and the Hay-Adams Houses.

Chamber of Commerce, Lafayette Square, Washington, DC, Olympus

The northern side of Lafayette Square

The good news on the northern side is that the “Church of Presidents,” St. John’s Episcopal Church, is still there.  It is nicknamed so since every President since Madison has attended service there, even if not regularly.  The church was built in 1816 and it is a gem.

St. John Episcopal Church, Church of Presidents, Lafayette Square, Washington, DC, history, architecture

St. John’s is a neat reminder of the history of the U.S. capital

So next time you are in D.C. gawking at the White House, take a moment to stroll around Lafayette Square and take a peek at these buildings that take us back in the capital’s history.

D.C. has plenty of hotels but I was fortunate to stay at one very close to the square:  the aptly named Sofitel Lafayette.  It is just a block away on H St. and it is perfect as a base to visit the square and many other places in D.C.  Only the Hay-Adams Hotel is closer to the Square but the price difference is huge!  I sampled a couple of the specialty cocktails at Le Bar, where they have an incredible diversity of specialty cocktails – and a very nice wine list too!

Le Bar, Sofitel Lafayette, DC, hotel, bar

Le Bar offers nice spaces to enjoy its offerings

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The entrance to the Sofitel

On the day of departure, I splurged and got an incredible breakfast of smoked salmon pair with a café au lait, and a side of a pain au chocolat :)smoked salmon, pain au chocolat, breakfast, SofitelThat was a great way to wrap up my visit to one of my favorite cities in the world!

Have you visited D.C. and explored Lafayette Square?  Are there similar places in your hometown that help portray its history? 

Boarding Pass Series: Hats off, TWA!

TWA, airline, Trans-World, boarding pass, flying history

Many, and I mean, MANY, years ago I had the pleasure of flying Trans-World Airlines, or “TWA“, a now-defunct airline absorbed by a lesser player many years ago.  This airline, steeped in history, had an incredible international route and rivaled the likes of PanAm (and outlasted it by a few years).TWA, airline, Trans-World, boarding pass, flying history

I got to fly it only domestically in the U.S. but grew to love it quickly with its friendly flight attendants and the occasional -and welcome- complimentary first class upgrades without having to accumulate a gazillion miles before being treated to a free upgrade…  And those flight attendants in first class did pour the wine gleefully even in short flights.  Not in an I-do-the-first-serving-as-part-of-the-standard-thing and maybe-come-by-and-offer-you-a-refill-out-of-obligation-and-more-only-if-you-happen-to-catch-me-or-ring-me, as many U.S.  airlines do today.  No, they really just were happy to keep you happy!

So, ex-TWA-ers, if you read this, hats off to you.  And that earns you this boarding pass series post.  Thanks for the good rides!

The Timeless Capitals: Rome, Athens, Cairo

Acropolis, Athens. modern Athens, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

I have traveled to a good bunch of countries and hope to add more over time.  Most of the time, that means I have visited their capital cities even if briefly.  Rare is the case where I have not visited a capital city of a country I have been to.  Honduras, Mexico and the Dominican Republic come to mind.  Tanzania does too, now that I think about it, since Dodoma -not Dar es Salaam- is its capital.  I thought it would be cool to do a series of the capitals I have visited…  Let’s start with the timeless!

The timeless capital cities

One cannot argue that there are cities that are timeless.  Many are not capital cities.  But as the theme is capital cities, I will pick three that are timeless fully aware that I am stating the obvious given the choices:  Rome, Athens, and Cairo.

Just thinking about the “youngest” one of these goes back a couple of thousands of years.  Mind boggling.  )Of course, there are much younger capital cities that I could call timeless too.)  Going to any of these can be daunting with all the possibilities to explore the ancient, the old, and the recent (say, last 200 hundred years??).

Athenas – Atenas – Athina

Athens may be the easiest to navigate in terms of this but it still requires time to learn all about it.  It also merits exploring the “recent” not just the old or ancient.  In any of these cities, one can get stuck just on the archeology or history “touring” and miss the vibrant cities they are now, their history notwithstanding.

Acropolis, Athens. modern Athens, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

The modern outskirts of Athens towards Piraeus

Acropolis, Athens. modern Athens, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

A juxtaposition of modern Athens and old Athens

Rome – Roma

Rome has such depth that one could just focus on the Roman Empire period, or just the food, or just the Catholic, or just the modern life – and spend weeks on any of the topics.  A first visit to Rome can really consume one in the key sights to be seen – and that is OK, no reason to stress about it.  But either carve out time for, or plan to return for, diving in to the other experiences.  And don’t worry, Rome is eternal so it will all still be around for your next visit!

Pantheon, Rome, Italy, Panteon, Roma, architecture, photo, Canon EOS Rebel, travel

The old: Pantheon

food, carbonara, Italian food, Rome, Italy,  food porn, Olympus

The food: Carbonara – my favorite dish to have in Rome!

Olympus, St. Peter's at night, St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican, architecture, night time

The Catholic: St. Peter’s Square at night

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The visitor: Is this a Roman look-alike soaking in the incredible Pantheon?

Cairo – El Cairo – La Caire – Al-Qaherah – القاهرة‎

About Cairo, what I can safely state is that it is one complex city!  For someone not used to large cities in countries where one doesn’t speak the language or one is not familiar with the culture, it can be overwhelming.  I felt that way on my first day there during my first visit.  And then you start walking around, sensing the vibe, having contact with the friendly locals, and the city opens up differently than expected.  Yes, there are key sights to be seen – the “musts,” but in Cairo, as in other places, the best part is the “experiencing,” not just the touring (I am not an anti-touring snob, just a proponent of experiencing!).  I believe it totally change what Cairo is in our minds to become more immersed (to the extent one can in a one week visit…).

Pyramids, Cheops, Giza, Cairo, Egypt, travel, architecture, ancient Egypt

The “musts”: The Giza pyramids

Cairo, Le Caire, Egypt, shisha pipe, hookah, chilling, experience, travel, photo

The “experiences”: At the Grand Bazaar

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These cities are timeless for their longevity and history yet they could also be grouped into other categories in this series.  I preferred placing them in the timeless group as they serve witness to the development of civilization, to the evolution of how we humans operate, and to the great achievements of the past while yet being alive in this modern world – not just being city-museums.  So go and explore these timeless capitals!

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Tourists enjoying a timeless capital: Rome!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on these cities if you have visited – or how you envision them if you have not!

A Grain of Truth about Minneapolis

Mill City Museum, Minneapolis, Minnesota, mill, Mississippi River, photo, travel, Olympu

Minneapolis is a northern city by U.S. standards and that often conjures images of snow and cold.  While that may be true in winter, as in many places, that is not the grain of truth about the city I want to reveal to you today…

You may or may not be familiar with the history of Minneapolis.  It seems just another modern city with a great business environment, beautiful nature, and super nice folks.  It may seem that it just evolved in the great “wander West, folks” of the late 18th and 19th centuries.  Well there may have been some of that but the catalyst that planted the seed of this city was none other than the Mississippi River.  Where the city was established as a post along the river, though, was not random.  There were these waterfalls named St. Anthony’ Falls that were perfect for powering mills.  The post grew and expanded as these waterfalls powered industry whether it be lumber mills or wheat mills.  And in the latter is where we find the grain of truth about Minneapolis:  wheat was key in helping this city grow and thrive.

St Anthony's fall, Mississippi, Minneapolis, Minnesota, river, bridge, photo, travel, Canon EOS Rebel

St. Anthony’s Falls were long replaced by riverworks; wish I could have seen the original!

See, Minneapolis became one of the great end points for harvested northern Midwest wheat to go to be ground into flour.  The mills were located right by the river.  Today, you still can see the Pillsbury Mill on the east side of the river.  But the best way to learn about the grain that powered this city is by visiting the Mill City Museum on the west bank of the Mississippi river where the Washburn “A” mill was located.  Since it was a short walk from my well-located hotel, The Hotel Minneapolis, it was a no-brainer to head there and learn more about the city.

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The inner courtyard of the former Washburn A Mill shows some of the damage from the fire

The Mill City Museum does a great job of taking the ruins of the last mill to operate on that site (a fire in 1991 destroyed the mill, abandoned since 1965, except for its shell) and turning it into a learning experience about Minneapolis history, about the milling process, and even about baking!  It is geared for all ages with specific stations for kids to learn hands-on (adults can play too…).

Mill City Museum, Minneapolis, Minnesota, mill, equipment, history, photo, travel, Canon EOS Rebel

Exhibits include old mill equipment

Mill City Museum, Minneapolis, Minnesota, mill, equipment, history, photo, travel, Canon EOS Rebel

Plenty of good signage around!

Mill City Museum, Minneapolis, Minnesota, mill, equipment, history, photo, travel, Canon EOS Rebel

Many different stations for hands-on experimentation

I enjoyed the the film Minneapolis in 19 Minutes movie which does great job of helping someone like me (read:  unfamiliar with the history of the city) understand the city’s beginnings, how it became a major city, and even the trials and tribulations of the changes brought about by the 20th century (the Great Depression, mills closing, etc.).

The flour tower elevator “ride” was also very cleverly done and I will not reveal any more about it.  But I will say that it does take you to the top of the tower where you get great views of the might Mississippi River, the “falls”, and the east side of Minneapolis.

Mill City Museum, Minneapolis, Minnesota, mill, Mississippi River, photo, travel, Olympu

A great view on a beautiful day!

I love it when a museum delivers great insights in easy to follow exhibits and narratives.  The Mill City Museum is a must-visit for all ages and it help connect you with that grain that seeded its home city!

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My activities in Minneapolis were facilitated by its Convention and Visitors’ Bureau.

The Spared Town in Georgia: Madison

Madison, Georgia, Morgan County, South, architecture, antebellum, photo, travel, Canon EOS Rebel

Madison, Georgia is a town not terribly far from Atlanta.  Just about an hour east of the city, it offers a different view on the South than Atlanta or towns north may offer.  Madison, founded on 1807 (a couple of decades before Atlanta), was spared destruction as the Northern armies moved towards the Atlantic coast after taking Atlanta by the simple request from a woman appealing with all her charms to General Sherman.  True or half-true or not-true (the stronger theory is that Sherman had a friend with connections to the town), Madison survived the destruction that was usually meted out to Southern towns rather crassly:  100 Antebellum or “pre-war” houses survive today, quite a number for the South!  And we are thankful for that as we can admire beautiful architecture and maybe begin to feel what places around the South looked like.  Georgia has a lot of interesting places off the beaten path and Madison is definitely one of those towns!  Check out some of this charming southern town…

 

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