Tag: Historic Sites

Where the Heck is Guam, Anyway?

Where the Heck is Guam, Anyway?

In the News

Lately, there’s been a lot of talk about Guam. North Korea has been eyeing the small island in the western Pacific for target practice. I have no desire to talk about politics or Kim Jong-un. However, this is a great opportunity to learn about a place that is relatively unknown.

guam tourism flag

Who (Lives There)?

There are almost 163,000 people who reside on Guam; they are called Guamanians. Because Guam is a US territory, anyone born on the island is an American citizen.

The indigenous people, who settled there roughly 4000 years ago, are called Chamorro. The ancient Chamorro society had four classes: chamorri (chiefs), matua (upper class), achaot (middle class), and mana’chang (lower class). The upper class were located in the coastal villages, which meant they had the best access to fishing grounds, whereas the lower class were located in the interior of the island. These two groups rarely communicated with each other, and often used the middle class as intermediaries.

guam tourism indigenous people natives chamorro
Chamorro performers (source)

To greet someone in Guam, say “Håfa Adai,” which sounds very similar to “half a day.” This greeting is widely used on the island, even by those who do not speak Chamorro.

The population of Guam includes a large segment of US military members, as there are several bases. The US military bases on Guam cover nearly 30% of its total land! But as you will see in the “When?” section below, the island was of great military importance during and after World War II.

What (is it Like)?

Guam is the largest and southernmost of the Mariana Islands and the largest island in Micronesia. It is considered part of the continent of Oceania. The surface of the island is approximately 210 square miles, and most of it is surrounded by a reef.

The weather there does not fluctuate much.  The average high is 86 and the average low is 76. The highest temperature ever recorded on Guam was 96 degrees, and the lowest ever recorded was 65. The rainy season runs from July to November. August-October are the most likely months for a typhoon.

When (Did Guam Make History)?

Famed explorer Ferdinand Magellan was the first European to visit the island on March 6, 1521. He was sailing for the King of Spain, so his “discovery” of Guam led to Spanish colonization in the years that followed.

Centuries later, during the Spanish–American War, the United States captured Guam on June 21, 1898. Under the Treaty of Paris (December 10, 1898), Spain ceded Guam to the United States. It has been a US territory ever since then.

On December 7, 1941, just hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese captured the isand of Guam. During their two and a half year occupation, Guamanians were subjected to beheadings, forced labor, rape, and torture. American forces recaptured the island on July 21, 1944; Liberation Day is celebrated every July 21 to commemorate the victory.

Where (Should You Visit)?

Two Lovers Point

Once, long ago, during a time when Spain claimed the Mariana Islands, there was a family who lived in the capital city. The father was a wealthy Spanish businessman and the mother, a daughter of a great Chamorro chief.

Their oldest daughter was a beautiful young woman, admired by all for her honesty, modesty, and natural charm. One day, against her will, the girl’s father arranged for her to take a powerful Spanish captain as her husband. But the girl met and fell in love with a common Chamorro man, and they promised each other their love.

When the girl’s father learned of the couple, he grew angry and demanded that she marry the Spanish captain at once – but she found her lover and escaped. Her father, the captain and all the Spanish soldiers pursued the lovers up to the high cliff above Tumon Bay. The lovers found themselves trapped between the edge of the cliff and the approaching soldiers.

The daughter and her lover tied their long black hair together and kissed for the last time before leaping to their deaths. No one saw or heard from them again.

guam tourism - two lovers point - scenic overlook

Today the place where they jumped is known as Puntan dos Amåntes or Two Lover’s Point. Visit there to learn about the two lovers, and enjoy one of the most breathtaking views of Guam’s coastline.

Asan Bay Overlook

Aside from stunning views of the water, there is also a memorial wall. Often monuments and memorials contain the names of the leaders of nations or high ranking military officials and rightfully so. This memorial wall of honor, sacrifice, and remembrance, however, includes the etched names of ordinary men who fought with extraordinary bravery on the front lines and the names of the civilians; the men, women and children, who as neighbors, friends, and families, suffered the consequences of nations at war, many paying the ultimate sacrifice.

guam tourism asan bay overlook

The Asan Bay Overlook Memorial Wall contains the names of 1,880 U.S. servicemen who died in the 1941 defense of Guam against the attacking Japanese armed forces and those who died retaking the island from Japan in 1944. It also lists the names of the 1,170 people of Guam who died and 14,721 who suffered atrocities of war from 1941-1944.

Latte Stone Park

A latte is a stone that the Chamorro used as foundations for their homes. It consists of a pillar with a half-sphere cap (flat side facing up).

guam tourism latte stone park

Latte stones were first used around 800 AD, but fell out of use in the 17th century due to Spanish colonization. They vary in size from 18 inches to 15 feet. Some historians theorize that the taller the latte stones, the more important the person who lived in the house it supported.

Gadao’s Cave

To see excellent examples of ancient Chamorro art, head to Inarajan and Gadao’s Cave. Inside, there is a group of about 50 pictographs. The drawings range in size from one inch in height to almost eight inches. The designs vary from geometric shapes to representational figures depicting human-like or animal-like forms.  The most well known drawings in Gadao’s Cave are located on the east wall.  There, you can clearly see two human figures side by side, one of which appears to be holding something under his arm.

guam tourism gadaos cave art

Some have suggested that these figures represent the legendary Chief Gadao who challenged and outsmarted the northern chief Malaguana in a test of strength.

Namo Falls Park

Not only does Namo Falls Park in Santa Rita have some breathtaking waterfalls, it also has a stunning variety of plants in the botanical garden there.

guam tourism name falls waterfalls park

A guided tour takes visitors through the botanical garden, which is a showcase for various species of ginger and heliconius. The bright flowers bloom in an assortment of colors. Hibiscus, bougainvillea, orchids, bamboo and coconut trees among other various plants saturate the surroundings.

The park features two waterfalls. The Grandmother Falls can be viewed from this footpath. To reach the larger terraced Grandfather Falls, walk down a set of stairs.

After taking in the beautiful park grounds and flora, visitors can watch a cultural demonstration. Activities include basket weaving and rope making. The show concludes with making and sampling coconut candy.

Inajaran Natural Pools

A coral reef in this area of Guam prevents large, powerful ocean waves from reaching the shore.  The reef turns those big waves into mere ripples in a series of natural saltwater pools.

guam tourism inajaran - natural pools - great for snorkeling
See the difference between the waves in the background and the still pond in the foreground?

The stillness of the water makes it a great spot for snorkeling.  However, don’t be fooled into thinking it’s all shallow.  Some of the pools are still deep enough to dive into, and a concrete tower provides you with the means to do just that.

Why (Go There)?

Why consider Guam as a travel destination? Well, in addition to all the cool places I’ve already described above, there are a couple of great reasons:

  • You don’t need a passport to go there
  • You can call home without having to pay international phone rates
  • The weather will be neither too hot nor too cold
  • It has the world’s largest K Mart (not really a draw, but a fascinating piece of trivia)
  • It’s the perfect place to scuba dive or snorkel (or learn to snorkel)

How (Do I Get There)?

There is an international airport on Guam, and it serves as a hub for United Airlines. Or, if you would prefer to travel by sea, the Princess Cruise line does have ships that go to Guam. (But fair warning – they last for 32 or 60 nights!)

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning more about Guam as much as I have! Would you like to go there some day?

21 New UNESCO World Heritage Sites – Part 2

21 New UNESCO World Heritage Sites – Part 2

For my post on the first ten new UNESCO World Heritage sites, click here.

11. Taputapuātea, center of the “Polynesian Triangle”, French Polynesia

The Marae, or burial site of Taputapuatea in French Polynesia - one of the new UNESCO World Heritage sites.
The marae of Taputapuātea.

Taputapuātea on Ra’iatea Island is part of the Polynesian Triangle – the last part of the globe to be settled by humans. The property includes two forested valleys, a portion of lagoon and coral reef and a strip of open ocean. At the heart of the property is the Taputapuātea marae complex – a political, ceremonial and funerary center. The site has a paved courtyard with a large standing stone at its center. Widespread in Polynesia, the marae were places of learning where priests and navigators from all over the Pacific would gather to offer sacrifices to the gods and share their knowledge of the genealogical origins of the universe, and of deep-ocean navigation. Taputapuātea is an exceptional testimony to 1,000 years of mā’ohi civilization.

12. Tarnowskie Góry, lead-silver-zinc mine, Poland

The mines of Tarnowskie Góry and the underground water system there - are one of the new UNESCO World a Heritage sites.
Today, you can tour the mines of Tarnowskie Góry.

Southern Poland contains one of the main mining areas of central Europe.  The site at
Tarnowskie Góry includes the entire underground mine with adits, shafts, galleries and even a water management system. According to UNESCO, Tarnowskie Góry represents a significant contribution to the global production of lead and zinc.

According to legend, in 1490 a local peasant-farmer named Rybka found a strange, heavy, metallic stone while plowing the field near village of Tarnowice. He presented his find to a local priest; within three decades the town became the largest silver mining center in the area. Its population rivaled in size some of the major cities of the Renaissance world. Prospectors were coming from all corners of the continent, some as far as Spain. They were spurred on by the massive amount and quality of ore, so high that on many occasions it was said to be practically pure, metallic silver. Silver, lead and zinc were bountiful in these grounds and the evidence of an early metal production dates back to at least 3rd century AD. Sadly, in the beginning of the 20th century, the source of the silver ore dried out and the mining stopped completely.

13. Sambor Prei Kuk temple zone, Cambodia

The temples of Sambor Prei Kurt, Cambodia are one of the 21 new UNESCO World Heritage sites.
A temple in Sambor Prei Kuk

Sambor Prei Kuk is a Khmer name meaning “the temple in the richness of the forest.” The archaeological site has been identified as Ishanapura, capital of the Chenla Empire that flourished there in the late 6th/early 7th centuries. The vestiges of the city cover an area of over 15 square miles and include a walled city center as well as numerous temples. Ten of the temples are octagonal, unique specimens of their kind in southeast Asia. Decorated sandstone elements in the site include lintels, pediments and colonnades – they are true masterpieces. The art and architecture developed here became models for other parts of the region and lay the ground for the unique Khmer style of the Angkor period.

 

14. English Lake District, United Kingdom

The Lake District in England is one of 21 new UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Located in northwest England, the English Lake District is a mountainous area whose valleys have been modeled by glaciers in the Ice Age. From the 18th century onwards, the Picturesque and Romantic movements celebrated this area in paintings, drawings and words. It also inspired an awareness of the importance of beautiful landscapes and triggered early efforts to preserve them. Interestingly, only one of the lakes in the Lake District is called by that name, Bassenthwaite Lake. All the others – such as Windermere, Coniston Water, Ullswater and Buttermere – are meres, tarns and waters.

15. Valongo Wharf, archeological site, Brazil

The Valongo Wharf in Rio de Janeiro is one of 21 new UNESCORTED World Heritage sites.
The Valongo Wharf, now surrounded by the city of Rio de Janeiro.

Valongo Wharf Archaeological Site encompasses the entirety of Jornal do Comércio Square in the center of Rio. It was the landing site and center of trading of African slaves from 1811 until the banning of the transatlantic slave trade in 1831. An estimated 900,000 Africans arrived in South America via Valongo.

16. Venetian Works of Defense, Croatia, Italy, Montenegro

The Venetian defense work of the 15th-17th centuries are one of 21 new UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Aerial view of the Venetian defense system in Palmanova, Italy.

This property consists of 15 components of defense works in Italy, Croatia and Montenegro, spanning more than 600 miles between the Lombard region of Italy and the eastern Adriatic Coast. The fortifications throughout Venice and its mainland territories protected the Republic of Venice from other European powers to the northwest. Those of Venice’s overseas territories protected the sea routes and ports in the Adriatic Sea to the Levant. They were necessary to support the expansion and authority of Venice. The introduction of gunpowder led to significant shifts in military techniques and architecture. These changes are reflected in the design of alla moderna bastioned fortifications, which spread throughout Europe.

17. ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape, South Africa

The Khomari Cultural Landscape of Botswana and South Africa is one of 21 new UNESCORTED World Heritage site.
Bushmen in the ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape

The ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape is located at the border between Botswana and Namibia. The area contains evidence of human occupation from the Stone Age to the present. They developed specific knowledge, cultural practices and worldview related to the geographical features of their environment. The ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape bears testimony to the way of life that prevailed in the region over thousands of years. In fact, a set of tools almost identical to that used by the present-day inhabitants of the area was discovered at Border Cave in 2012. Those tools dated to 44,000 BC!

18. Landscapes of Dauria, Mongolia, Russia

Dauria Landscape, an area in Russia and Mongolia, is one of 21 new UNESCO World Heritage sites.
A Daurian hedgehog.

Shared between Mongolia and the Russian Federation, Dauria is a sea of grass that forms the best and most intact example of an undisturbed steppe ecosystem. Because of the climate’s distinct wet and dry periods, Dauria contains a wide diversity of species. The steppes serve as habitats for rare species of animals, such as the White-Naped crane and the Great bustard, as well as millions of vulnerable, endangered or threatened migratory birds. It is also a critical site on the migration path for the Mongolian gazelle.

The region has given its name to various animal species including Daurian hedgehog, and the following birds: Asian brown flycatcher (Muscicapa daurica), Daurian jackdaw, Daurian partridge, Daurian redstart, Daurian starling, Daurian shrike and the red-rumped swallow (Hirundo daurica).

19. Los Alerces National Park, Argentina

Los Alerces National Park in Argentina is one of 21 new UNESCORTED World Heritage sites.

Los Alerces National Park is located in the Andes Mountains of northern Patagonia. The park is vital for the protection of some of the last portions of continuous Patagonian Forest. A number of endemic and threatened species of flora and fauna make the park their home. The park was created in 1937 in order to protect the alerce forest, and other plants of the Patagonian Andes. The National Park has the largest alerce forest of Argentina. The slow growing alerce is one of the longest-living trees in the world; some in the park are around 3,000 years old, with many of them over 1,000 years.

20. Qinghai Hoh Xil, China

Qinghai Hoh Xil in China is one of 21 new UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Qinghai Hoh Xil is the largest and highest plateau in the world. This extensive area of alpine mountains and steppe systems is situated more than 4,500 m above sea level, where sub-zero average temperatures prevail all year round. Despite the harsh climate, Hoh Xil is home to more than 230 species of wild animals, 20 of which are under Chinese state protection.  Protected species include the wild yak, wild donkey, white-lip deer, brown bear and the endangered Tibetan antelope, or chiru. The abundant plateau pika, a small burrowing rodent, is the main food of the region’s brown bears; the bears also feed on the yak and antelope.

21. Historic city of Ahmedabad, India

The historic walled city of India is one of 21 new UNESCO World Heritage site.
Entrance to Bhadra Fort in Ahmedabad

The walled city of Ahmedabad, founded in 1411 by Sultan Ahmad Shah presents a rich architectural heritage from the sultanate period. This is nowhere more evident than in the Bhadra citadel, the walls and gates of the city, and numerous mosques and tombs. The city consists of densely-packed traditional houses in gated streets with features such as bird feeders, public wells and religious institutions. The city continued to flourish as the capital of the State of Gujarat for six centuries, up to the present.

21 New UNESCO World Heritage Sites – Part 1

21 New UNESCO World Heritage Sites – Part 1

World Heritage Sites

At the beginning of July, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) added 21 new locations to their list of World Heritage sites. A World Heritage site is a place of special cultural or physical significance. Some of the more famous UNESCO World Heritage sites are the Taj Mahal, Easter Island, Petra, Stonehenge, and the Sydney Opera House.

Here’s part one of my guide to the new sites, in which I’ll show you ten of them:

1. Aphrodisias, Turkey

The Temple of Aphrodite in Aphrodisias, Turkey. One of the 21 new UNESCO world heritage sites.
The Temple of Aphrodite at Aphrodisias, Turkey (source)

The name might make you think of aphrodisiacs, and you wouldn’t be too far off.  The town takes its name from the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite. Aphrodisias became a World Heritage site due to its archaeological site and the marble quarries northeast of the city. The temple of Aphrodite there dates from the 3rd century BC and the city was built one century later. The city’s wealth came from the marble quarries and the art produced by its sculptors. The city has several large and ancient structures, including temples, a theatre, a stadium that held up to 30,000 people, and two bath complexes.

2. Asmara, Eritrea

Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, is one of 21 new UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Eritrea’s capital city of Asmara. (source)

Eritrea is a small nation north of Ethiopia, and bordering the Red Sea. Eritrea was occupied by Italy between roughly 1890 and 1941. The Italian influence had such a strong impact on this country that in the late 1930s, many people referred to the capital city of Asmara as Piccola Roma (Little Rome). Asmara became a World Heritage Site because of its well-preserved colonial Italian modernist architecture.

3. Assumption Cathedral and Monastery of Sviyazhsk, Russia

Assumption Cathedral and Monastery of Sviyazhsk Russia - one of 21 new UNESCO World Heritage sites
The Assumption Cathedral and Monastery of Sviyazhsk. (source)

Sviyazhsk is both a town and an island situated where the Volga, the Sviyaga and the Shchuka rivers meet. Founded by Ivan the Terrible in 1551, Sviyazhsk’s position was one of economic and political power.  In fact, it was key to the expansion of the Russian empire. The cathedral’s frescoes are among the rarest examples of Eastern Orthodox mural paintings.

4. Caves and ice age art in the Swabian Jura, Germany

Venus of Hohle Fels part of Swabian Jura Cave Art - a new UNESCO World Heritage site
Carved from wolly mammoth tusk over 35,000 years ago, this female figure is called the Venus of Hohlen Fels. (source)

The Swabian Jura is a German mountain range with a series of caves that have been a treasure trove of prehistoric artifacts.  These caves held some of the oldest figurative art ever found. In addition to figures of animals, archaeologists also found flutes made from swan and griffon vulture bones, and in 2004 a flute carved from the tusk of a mammoth dating from the Ice Age. To date, the Venus of Hohlen Fels, shown above, is the oldest artistic representation of the human body. These artifacts provide us with a fascinating look at artistic development.

5. Hebron/Al-Khalil Old Town, Palestine

Hebron or Al-Khalil Old Town is one of 21 new UNESCO World Heritage sites.
The Cave of the Patriarchs in Old Town Hebron. (source)

The history of Hebron, also called Al-Khalil, primarily falls into two distinct eras.  First is the Mamluk period (1250-1517), in which buildings were constructed using local limestone.  During this period there were distinct, separate quarters of the city based on ethnic, religious, or professional groupings. Second is the Ottoman period (1517 – 1917), during which the town expanded outward and upward. What makes Hebron remarkable is that despite the 400 years of the Ottoman period, and the century that has followed, the Mamluk era quarters of the city are still pretty much intact.

People from three major religions flock to Hebron to see the Cave of the Patriarchs, a series of subterranean chambers located in the heart of the old city. Dating back over 2,000 years, the compound may be the oldest continuously used intact prayer structure in the world, and is the oldest major building in the world that still fulfills its original purpose. It contains the double tombs of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah, considered the Patriarchs and Matriarchs of the Jewish people.

6. Historic city of Yazd, Iran

The Dolat Abad Garden in Yazd Iran. Yazd is one 1 of the new UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Dolat-abad Garden in Yazd Iran. (source)

The City of Yazd bears living testimony to the use of limited resources for survival in the desert by its underground channel system known as a qanat, which draws water and supplies it to the city. The earthen architecture of Yazd retains its traditional districts, the qanat system, traditional houses, bazaars, hammams, mosques, synagogues, Zoroastrian temples and the historic garden of Dolat-abad.

7. Kujataa, Greenland

The first known example of farming in the arctic is found at Kujataa, Greenland. It is one of the 21 new UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Norse ruins next to modern day structures – evidence that the two farming cultures overlapped. (source)

Kujataa is a sub-arctic farming landscape located in the southern region of Greenland. It bears witness to the cultural histories of the Norse hunters-gatherers who started arriving from Iceland in the 10th century and of the Norse farmers, Inuit hunters and Inuit farming communities that developed from the end of the 18thcentury. Despite their differences, the two cultures, European Norse and Inuit, created a cultural landscape based on farming, grazing and marine mammal hunting. The landscape represents the earliest introduction of farming to the Arctic, and the Norse expansion of settlement beyond Europe.

8. Kulangsu, China

Kulangsu China is known for its international architecture. It is one of 21 new UNESCO World Heritage sites.
A view of Kulangsu and its varied architecture. (source)

Kulangsu is a tiny pedestrian-only island off the coast of Xiamen, China. Kulangsu was established in 1903 as an international settlement, making it an important area for foreign exchanges. Today, Kulangsu is a great example of the cultural fusion that emerged from these exchanges. It is most evident in the mixture of different architectural styles on the island.

9. Mbanza Kongo, Angola

cathedral ruins in Mbanza Kongo. The city is one of 21 new UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Mbanza Kongo was the political and spiritual capital of the Kingdom of Kongo, which was one of the largest constituted states in Southern Africa from the 14th to 19th centuries. The historical area grew around the royal residence, the customary court and the holy tree, as well as the royal funeral places. When the Portuguese arrived in the 15th century they added stone buildings to the existing urban area built with local materials. Mbanza Kongo illustrates, more than anywhere in sub-Saharan Africa, the profound changes caused by the introduction of Christianity and the arrival of the Portuguese into Central Africa.

10. Sacred Island of Okinoshima, Japan

Okinoshima is a sacred island in Japan. It is also one of the 21 new UNESCO World Heritage sites.
A Shinto shrine on the island of Okinoshima, Japan (source)

The island of Okinoshima is an exceptional example of the tradition of worship of a sacred island. The archaeological sites that have been preserved on the island are virtually intact, and they provide a chronological record of how the rituals performed there have changed over time. In these rituals, items were left as offerings at different sites on the island. Integrated within the Grand Shrine of Munakata, the island of Okinoshima is considered sacred to this day. However, don’t be in a rush to put this place on your bucket list.  Women are not allowed to set foot on the island, and the priests who live there only permit men to visit one day a year.

Stay tuned… I’ll cover the other 11 sites in my next post!

A Road Trip for the Hamilton Fan

A Road Trip for the Hamilton Fan

Hamilton

Are you a fan of the wildly popular Broadway musical, Hamilton? I certainly am, so I figured it might be fun to do a Hamilton road trip visiting all of the places connected to this founding father. I’m listing them in chronological order; however, I will have a list at the end that organizes the sites by state, and a map to guide you in planning your Hamilton road trip.

In New York you can be a new man

In the first year or two after his arrival on the mainland, Alexander focused on his education. During this time, he came under the influence of William Livingston, a leading intellectual and revolutionary. Hamilton even lived at the Livingston residence for about a year. Livingston’s house, known as Liberty Hall, is now the Liberty Hall Museum of Union, NJ.

Hamilton entered King’s College in New York City (now Columbia University) in the autumn of 1773 as a private student and officially matriculated in May 1774. As a result, if you visit the college today, you will see Hamilton Hall and a large statue of Hamilton in front of it.

alexander hamilton road trip columbia university hall statue
Hamilton Hall at Columbia University (source)

After his education, Alexander Hamilton joined a New York volunteer militia company. He drilled with the company in the graveyard of nearby St. Paul’s Chapel.

You walked in and my heart went BOOM

Hamilton met Elizabeth Schuyler while stationed in Morristown, New Jersey in the winter of December 1779-March 1780.

They were married on December 14, 1780, at the Schuyler Mansion in Albany, New York. The Schuyler Mansion still stands, and it is a New York State Historic Site. Between 1763 and 1804, this mansion was the site of military strategizing, political hobnobbing, elegant social affairs, and an active family life. You can tour of the mansion for $5 (students and seniors $4 and children under 12 receive free admission).

alexander hamilton roadt trip albany ny schuyler mansion
The Schuyler Mansion in Albany, NY (source)

The Battle of Yorktown … 1781 …

Hamilton was there, and you can be, too.

The American Revolution Museum at Yorktown (Virginia) tells the story of the nation’s founding, from the colonial period to the Revolution and beyond. Indoor galleries feature period artifacts, immersive environments, interactive exhibits and films. One film, “The Siege of Yorktown,” has a 180-degree surround screen and special effects. The museum also has outdoor living-history areas, in which visitors can witness artillery demonstrations, or drill with wooden muskets at a re-created Continental Army encampment.

alexander hamilton road trip american revolution museum yorktown
The American Revolution Museum at Yorktown (source)

After the war, I went back to New York

In July 1782, Hamilton passed the bar and set up law practice in Albany after six months of self-directed education. Unfortunately, I could not find any reference to the location of his law practice.

Back in Manhattan, in 1784, he founded the Bank of New York. The bank opened for business at 326 Pearl Street only a few months after the departure of British troops from American soil. Sadly, that building has not stood since 1881. It is interesting to note, however, that the Bank of New York became one of the longest operating banks in American history. It stayed in business for over 220 years before it merged with another bank in 2007.

I was chosen for the constitutional convention

The Annapolis Convention of September 1786, held at Mann’s Tavern, consisted of twelve delegates from five states. Hamilton played a major leadership role at the convention, where he drafted a resolution for a constitutional convention. As a result, he came one step closer to achieving his longtime desire to have a more powerful, financially independent federal government.

The Constitutional Convention took place in Philadelphia the following year from May 25 to September 17. Delegates met at the Pennsylvania State House, now known as Independence Hall. After months of work in defining and improving our fledgling nation’s government, they emerged with the Constitution of the United States of America.  Alexander Hamilton was the sole signer from the state of New York.  Today, you can see the Constitution at the National Archives in Washington DC.

alexander hamilton road trip independence hall philadelphia
Independence Hall, Philadelphia  (source)

The New York state Ratifying Convention took place in Poughkeepsie in June 1788. Most delegates to the ratifying convention were anti-Federalists, and they opposed ratification.  However, Hamilton led the Federalist minority in a tenacious and persevering fight for ratification. The original Dutchess County Courthouse where the convention was held later burned down, and a new courthouse was built on the same site. Outside the courthouse, signs mark the historic site of the New York Ratifying Convention. Inside the US Post Office at the end of the street, you can view a large mural of the New York Ratification Convention.

We’ll get a little place in Harlem

Alexander Hamilton owned just one home in his lifetime: a Federal style mansion known as The Grange. Originally built on Hamilton’s 32-acre country estate in upper Manhattan, the home was moved twice, and is now located in St. Nicholas Park in Hamilton Heights, Manhattan. It is maintained by the National Park Service, who restored it to its original 1802 appearance.  The Park Service also provides guided tours daily.

alexander hamilton road trip grange new york
The Grange (source)

Weehawken, dawn.  Guns drawn.

After decades of insults and provocations between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton, they met to duel at dawn on July 11, 1804 in Weehawken, NJ. The dueling grounds, located along the west bank of the Hudson River, have a historic marker and a bronze bust of Alexander Hamilton… in Hamilton Park, adjacent to Hamilton Street. Also on Hamilton Street is a large boulder upon which Alexander Hamilton rested after being shot.

Paralyzed by a bullet that struck his spine, Hamilton was ferried to the Greenwich Village home of his friend William Bayard Jr., who had been waiting on the dock. Hamilton died the following afternoon, July 12, at Bayard’s home. According to Hamilton biographer Ron Chernow, “A large bloodstain soaked into the Bayard’s floor where Hamilton expired, and for many years the family refused to expunge this sacred spot.” The house currently at this address is not the one in which Hamilton passed away, but there is a marker to commemorate the place of Hamilton’s demise.

Hamilton’s tomb lies near the southern fence of Trinity churchyard in New York. Eliza is buried next to him, but she outlived him by 50 years.  Also buried in the cemetery are Angelica Schuyler Church and Hercules Mulligan.

alexander hamilton road trip grave site epitaph
Hamilton’s grave site at Trinity Church

Who tells your story

Numerous locations in the United States pay tribute to Alexander Hamilton and his legacy. To name a few:

Hamilton served as one of the first trustees of the Hamilton-Oneida Academy in Clinton, New York. After receiving a college charter in 1812, it became Hamilton College.

It isn’t mentioned in the play, but Alexander Hamilton envisioned using the Great Falls of the Passaic River in New Jersey to power new factories.  While Secretary of Treasury, Hamilton selected the site of the nation’s first planned industrial city. Then, in 1791, Hamilton helped found the Society for the Establishment of Useful Manufactures (SUM), a state-chartered private corporation to fulfill this vision. SUM founded the town of Paterson and today, there is a statue of Hamilton overlooking the falls in Paterson, New Jersey.

The United States Capitol in Washington DC has a statue of Hamilton in the southwest portion of its rotunda.

In 1790, Hamilton created the United States Revenue Cutter Service to help with customs enforcement. In 1915, the service combined with the United States Life Saving Service to form the United States Coast Guard.  So it’s no surprise that the main administration building of the United States Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, is named Hamilton Hall.

In 1880, Hamilton’s son, John Church Hamilton, commissioned Carl Conrads to sculpt a granite statue of his father, now located in Central Park, New York City.

alexander hamilton road trip central park statue new york
The statue of Alexander Hamilton in Central Park, New York. (source)

In 1990, the U.S. Custom House in New York City was renamed after Alexander Hamilton.

The U.S. Army’s Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn is named after Hamilton.

In Washington, DC, the south terrace of the Treasury Building features a statue of Hamilton by James Earle Fraser, dedicated on May 17, 1923.

In Chicago, a thirteen-foot tall statue of Hamilton by sculptor John Angel was cast in 1939. Installation at Lincoln Park did not occur until 1952, however, due to issues with the accompanying structure. The statue underwent restoration work in 2016 and now gleams shiny gold.

A bronze sculpture of Hamilton titled The American Cape, by Kristen Visbal, was unveiled at Journal Square in downtown Hamilton, Ohio, in October 2004. (That link will take you to a site with multiple images – it’s really cool looking, so check it out!)

The Road Trip

Because most of these sites are close together, I think it makes an ideal road trip.  The road trip itinerary below does not include all of the spots, just the most important ones.  I tried to keep it semi-practical, so you wouldn’t be driving an hour out of your way just to see a statue.

  1. Start at the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, Virginia.  I would allow at least half a day for seeing that.  From there, head toward Washington DC. However, if you want to shorten your tip, you can make Washington your starting point – I included Yorktown because I’ve been to its sister site, the Jamestown Settlement, which is excellent.
  2. In Washington, go first to the Capitol building, then the National Archives, and then the US Treasury. From there, head to Philadelphia.
  3. In Philadelphia, tour Independence Hall.  Again, I would allow at least half a day for this.  Then head to New York City.
  4. In Manhattan, go to Trinity Church and look for the graves of Alexander & Eliza Hamilton, Hercules Mulligan, and Angelica Schuyler Church
  5. As you head north in New York, stop by 82 Jane Street, the site where Hamilton died at William Bayard’s home.
  6. Visit Central Park and look for the statue of Hamilton, located east of The Great Lawn between 82nd and 83rd Streets
  7. Go see Hamilton Hall at Columbia University.  Visit nearby St. Paul’s Chapel, where Hamilton and his fellow militiamen did drills in the cemetery.
  8. Make your last stop in the Big Apple the Hamilton Grange National Memorial.
  9. Leave New York and head to the Weehawken Dueling Grounds and Hamilton Memorial in Weehawken NJ. Be sure to look for the boulder.
  10. Visit the Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park in Paterson NJ and look for the statue of Hamilton there.
  11. Head north and stop in Poughkeepsie to see the Dutchess County Courthouse. While you’re there, you can also get a look at the mural in the nearby Post Office.
  12. Finally, you reach the end of the trip at the Schuyler Mansion in Albany, NY, site of Alexander and Eliza’s wedding.

Of course, this is just a suggestion.  You could adapt this trip to include more sites, or shorten it by removing some. I created a custom Google map with these twelve sites pinned to it, and you can see it here. A full list of all the sites mentioned in this article, and their addresses, follows.

New Jersey

  • Liberty Hall Museum – 1003 Morris Avenue, Union NJ
  • Morristown, NJ – Hamilton was stationed there in 1779/1780
  • Weehawken, NJ – Hamilton Street dueling grounds
  • Paterson, NJ Statue – 72 McBride Ave ExtensionPaterson, NJ

New York

  • Columbia University – 1130 Amsterdam Avenue, New York NY
  • St. Paul’s Chapel – 1160 Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY
  • Schuyler Mansion – 32 Catherine Street, Albany, NY
  • Dutchess County Courthouse – 10 Market St, Poughkeepsie, NY
  • Hamilton Grange National Memorial – 414 West 141st Street, New York, NY
  • William Bayard’s home Marker – 82 Jane Street, New York, NY
  • Trinity Churchyard Cemetery – Broadway and Wall Street, New York, NY
  • Hamilton College – 198 College Hill Rd, Clinton, NY
  • Central Park Statue – Mid-Park east of The Great Lawn between 82nd and 83rd Streets
  • Alexander Hamilton US Custom House – 1 Bowling Green, New York, NY
  • Fort Hamilton – 101st Street, Brooklyn, NY

Virginia

  • American Revolution Museum at Yorktown – 200 Water Street, Route 1020, Yorktown, VA

Maryland

  • Mann’s Tavern Marker – 162 Conduit St, Annapolis MD

Pennsylvania

  • Independence Hall – 520 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia

Washington, DC

  • National Archives – 700 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC
  • Capitol Building – East Capitol St NE & First St SE, Washington, DC
  • US Treasury Building – 1500 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, in Washington, D.C.

Connecticut

  • US Coast Guard Academy – 31 Mohegan Ave, New London, CT

Thank you for joining me on this tour of Alexander Hamilton’s life!  Please let me know if you take a Hamilton road trip and/or visit any of these places.  I would love to hear what you thought of them!

Buckingham Palace Opens New Exhibit of Royal Gifts

Buckingham Palace Opens New Exhibit of Royal Gifts

It’s Good to Be the Queen

During its summer opening (July 22 to October 1), the State Rooms of Buckingham Palace will hold an exhibit of over 250 items given to Queen Elizabeth II.

It is customary when heads of state from different countries meet for them to exchange gifts as a symbol of diplomacy. Because Queen Elizabeth II has reigned for over 65 years, she has received quite a few of these royal gifts. This exhibit highlights some of the more spectacular items she has received from over 100 different countries. The gifts are special not only because of their beauty and rarity, but in many cases they are also special because of who presented them to the queen. Many of the gifts were from notable world leaders (past and present), including US President Dwight D. Eisenhower, South African President Nelson Mandela, and President Xi Jinping of the People’s Republic of China.

Here are some of the items that will be highlighted at the exhibit:

Vessel of Friendship (China)

buckingham palace exhibit royal gifts vessel of friendship china

This is a model of the treasure ship sailed by navigator and diplomat Zeng He in the early 15th century. The prow of the ship features a dove and olive branch medallion, representing peace. The sides of the hull contain elements from Dunhuang frescoes, as well as traditional Chinese symbols of friendship and peace.

Yoruba Throne (Nigeria)

yoruba throne beaded chair nigeria buckingham palace royal gifts exhibit

This throne was presented to The Queen by the Yoruba people of Nigeria in 1956. Embroidering the beading and creating patterns for beadwork chairs and footstools is an important spiritual exercise for the Yoruba people. The designs denote many aspects of spiritual life – power, the past, the future and respect for ancestors and descendants. Beadwork and royalty were closely associated in this culture, so owning vast quantities of beads was considered a source of wealth and status. The wealthiest Yoruba kings employed craftspeople to embroider their clothing and other objects. These ornately-decorated pieces, in turn, became an important part of their regalia.

Totem Pole (Canada)

buckingham palace royal gifts exhibit canada totem pole

Another hand-crafted item, this totem pole was carved by the First Nations of Canada’s north-west coast. It features the mythical thunderbird at the top, with its wings outstretched. The aboriginal people of Canada believed that the bird brings thunder by flapping its wings.

Salt (Salt Island, British Virgin Islands)

buckingham palace royal gifts

Salt Island, part of the British Virgin Islands, used to pay tribute of a pound of salt every year on the monarch’s birthday. Over time, as salt became less valuable and more easily attained, the custom ceased. The Governor-General of the British Virgin Islands reintroduced this tradition in 2015, presenting this bag of salt for The Queen’s 90th Birthday. The bag features a scene of an islander collecting salt.

Coconut Baskets (Tonga)

buckingham palace royal gifts exhibit coconut baskets tonga

Queen Salote of Tonga presented these baskets to Queen Elizabeth II during her Commonwealth visit in 1953.  The baskets represent an industry that Queen Salote had re-established on the island of Tonga. Queen Salote endeared herself to the British public during Elizabeth II’s Coronation.  Leaving the Coronation service at Westminster Abbey in the rain, she insisted on riding in an open carriage, and rode back to Buckingham Palace waving to the crowds.

Tickets to the State Rooms of Buckingham Palace and the Royal Gifts exhibit are required and may be purchased here.

Pizarro’s Tomb (and the treachery that put him there)

Pizarro’s Tomb (and the treachery that put him there)

The Heart of Lima

The Cathedral of Lima is a commanding presence in the capital city’s Plaza de Armas. It is grand and imposing, taking up most of a city block.

There are seven chapels on each side of the Cathedral. As you enter, the first chapel on the right draws your attention almost immediately. It contains the tomb of Francisco Pizarro, the Spanish conquistador who claimed Peru for the Spanish crown.

The first thing you notice, even before you enter the chapel, is the artwork. Stunning mosaics cover nearly every surface – the walls, the floor, even the arched entryway. For instance, take this heraldic display:

pizarro's tomb

Or this depiction of Pizarro’s arrival in Peru:

pizarro's tomb mosaics

Other than the gorgeous mosaics, I didn’t notice anything remarkable about the chapel. Until I saw an ugly metal box in a display case. Why on earth would they put something like that in a chapel, surrounded by beautiful works of art?

pizarro's tomb lead box

That moment of curiosity led to some interesting discoveries that made the life of Francisco Pizarro seem an awful lot like a Game of Thrones episode.

What They Didn’t Teach You in History Class

Pizarro was born out of wedlock in Trujillo, Spain in the 1470s. He grew up poor and illiterate. In 1513, he joined explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa on his voyage to Panama. In the years that followed, Pizarro nurtured his political and military career in Panama.  Then, in 1519, the governor instructed him to arrest Balboa and bring him to trial. Pizarro arrested him; Balboa was executed for treason. The governor rewarded Pizarro by giving him the position of mayor and magistrate of Panama City.  He served in that position until 1523.

Following that assignment, Pizarro led two expeditions into South America. Both were considered unsuccessful and, as such, unnecessary drains on Panama’s already limited resources. When he sent a request to Panama for more settlers to join the expedition, the governor of Panama refused.  Actually, he not only refused to send them, but also sent two ships to bring Pizarro and his men back.

When those two ships arrived at Pizarro’s location, Pizarro refused to leave. He drew a line in the sand, saying: “There lies Peru with its riches; Here, Panama and its poverty. Choose, each man, what best becomes a brave Castilian. For my part, I go to the south.” Only 13 men chose to stay with him. This chapel mosaic honored “The Famous Thirteen” and listed their names:

pizarro's tomb mosaics

When Pizarro and his 13 companions reached the Peruvian territory of Tumbes, he was the first European who had set foot in that area. The natives called Pizarro and his men “Children of the Sun” because of their fair skin and shiny armor. They told Pizarro of a great ruler and vast riches of gold and silver.  Pizarro, excited by the possibility of finding an abundance of riches in Peru, returned to Panama to get funding and resources for a third expedition.

The governor of Panama, however, refused to fund a third expedition. Pizarro decided to go over the governor’s head, returning to Spain to make his case to the king in person. It was a wise move on his part. He received not only a license for the proposed expedition, but also authority over any lands conquered during the venture. Family and friends joined him, and the expedition left Panama in late December 1530.

Third Time’s the Charm

Nearly two years later, Pizarro and his men came face to face with the Inca King Atahualpa. A Dominican friar attempted to convince Atahualpa of the true faith. He also spoke of the need to pay tribute to King Charles I. Atahualpa replied, “I will be no man’s tributary.”

Atahualpa’s refusal led Pizarro and his forces to attack the Inca army in what became the Battle of Cajamarca. Pizarro’s 168 men easily defeated the 5000 mostly unarmed Inca warriors. Pizarro captured Atahualpa and held him hostage, demanding as ransom a 22 x 17 foot room filled nine feet high with gold. The ransom – worth more than $436 million in today’s money – was provided to Pizarro, but he had Atahualpa executed anyway.

Following the conquest of the Incas, the newly arrived Spanish conquistadores split into two factions. Francisco Pizarro led the group in the north and Diego de Almagro led the group in the south. There was rivalry between the two groups over who should rule Cusco. It all came to a head in 1538 at the Battle of Las Salinas.  The Pizarros proved victorious, and the conquistador‘s brother, Hernando, captured and executed Diego de Almagro.

Live By the Sword, Die By the Sword

Three years later, Almagro’s son avenged his father’s death in Lima. He stormed into Pizarro’s palace at dinnertime with about 20 followers. Pizarro killed two of the men, then ran through a third. While trying to pull his sword out of the third victim’s body, the attackers stabbed him in the throat. Once he fell to the floor, they continued to stab him repeatedly. Pizarro collapsed on the floor, painted a cross in his own blood and cried out for Jesus as he died.

Pizarro’s body was buried behind the cathedral the very same night of the assassination. Over the centuries, as the Cathedral of Lima was built and reconstructed, it was reburied and relocated – multiple times.

Dem Bones

In 1891, Pizarro’s mummified body was disinterred. It was then placed in an elaborate glass-sided coffin to celebrate the 350th anniversary of his death. It stayed there until 1977, when workmen who were cleaning a crypt discovered two wooden boxes.  Both boxes contained bones, and one also held a lead box.  It was the same one that caught my attention in the chapel. The inscription on the lid of the box read:

“Here is the skull of the Marquis Don Francisco Pizarro who discovered and won Peru and placed it under the crown of Castile.”

Was the skull really Pizarro’s?  And what about the bones?  Were they his too? The Cathedral called in a team of researchers to examine the remains. They compared accounts of Pizarro’s assassination with the visible injuries to the skull. In doing so, the experts determined that the skull in the lead box was indeed Pizarro’s. A forensic pathologist came to the same conclusion in 1984. The skull in the lead box and some of the bones were that of Francisco Pizarro. The mummy, which had been on display for nearly a hundred years, was not Pizarro at all.

In 1985 Pizarro’s bones were placed in the chapel at the Cathedral of Lima:

lima cathedral pizarro's tomb
Here lies the Marquez Governor Sir Francisco Pizarro, conqueror of Peru and founder of Lima. Born in Trujillo, Spain in 1478 and died in Lima January 18, 1541. His remains were transferred here January 18, 1985, the 450th anniversary of the founding of the city. God rest his soul. Amen.

Learning about Pizarro’s exploits – especially after having come from Cusco and Machu Picchu – was sobering and sad. The descendants of the natives Pizarro conquered are very proud of their heritage. Everywhere we went, we heard about what their life was like before the Conquest. Seeing Pizarro glorified and celebrated in the chapel of the Cathedral somehow seemed inappropriate.  However, don’t let that stop you from visiting the Cathedral if you go to Lima. It’s beautiful! I’ll be covering the rest of the Cathedral in my next blog post. Stay tuned!

Changes Are Coming to Machu Picchu

Changes Are Coming to Machu Picchu

Last month, I was lucky enough to cross a destination off of my bucket list:  Machu Picchu.

new machu picchu rules july 2017

I didn’t realize it at the time, but my experience at Machu Picchu was very different from what most tourists will experience after me.  You see, a new set of strict rules will be in effect starting July 1, 2017.

The New Rules:

There are three major changes that will affect your visit, plus a laundry list of prohibited items/activities.

The first major change requires that a licensed guide accompany all visitors entering Machu Picchu. Guide-led groups will consist of no more than 16 people.

We used a guide when we went to Machu Picchu and we were glad we did.  There were so many things that we would not have noticed or understood without him.  (Signage at Machu Picchu is almost non-existent.) For instance, take a look at this photo:

machu picchu guide new rules july 2017

Our guide had previously told us that the stones the Incas used to build were perfectly smooth and straight for buildings of special importance, such as temples and the king’s residence.  Here, he is showing us the back wall of a temple and a connecting priest’s quarters.  The stones on the far left side of the picture (the temple) are very smooth, flat, and straight.  However, as the wall progresses to the right (priest’s quarters), the stones become more roughly hewn.

Would we have known that without our guide?  No way.  We probably wouldn’t have even noticed.  So I think that having a guide will add to the Machu Picchu experience in a beneficial way.  I don’t know if the Peruvian government  will pay the guides, or if visitors will have to pay them.  Either way, I’m sure you can expect the expense of visiting Machu Picchu to increase.  We paid our guide 35 soles (about $10) per person for a group of eight.

The second major change is that admission to the site will be split into two time frames: morning (6:00 AM to 12:00 noon) or afternoon (12:00 noon to 5:30 PM). That doesn’t seem too bad until you learn that you must enter and leave the site within the same time frame.  If you have morning tickets and you don’t get there until 11:00 AM, you will have just one hour to see Machu Picchu before you are escorted from the premises. But that’s not all.  Once you go through the exit, you cannot re-enter.  This could present a problem for anyone in need of a rest room, as those facilities are located outside the site.

The third major change is that the site will have clearly defined tour routes, and you will have to choose which route you want to take when you book your ticket. Route 1 is the physically demanding classic route, which takes in the upper sector of the citadel, before heading in a large loop around to the lower-sector. Routes 2 & 3 go through the mid and lower-sectors, and are more suitable for those who want a more relaxing visit.

Visitors who wish to climb Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain now have set entrance times as well. Those wishing to climb Huayna Picchu must be at the trail head between 7:00 AM and 8:00 AM or between 10:00 AM and 11:00 AM.  Those wishing to climb Machu Picchu Mountain must be present at the trail head between 7:00 AM and 8:00 AM or between 9:00 AM and 10:00 AM.

Prohibited at Machu Picchu:

The following items will be prohibited at Machu Picchu after July 1, 2017:

  • Bags/backpacks larger than 40 x 35 x 20 cm (15.7 x 13.7 x 7.9”). You will have to check larger items at the entrance for a small fee.
  • Food and/or beverages of any type, alcoholic or non-alcoholic.
  • Umbrellas or sun shades. (You may, however, wear hats and ponchos or rain coats.)
  • Photographic tripods or any type of camera stand/support. This is only permitted with pre-authorization and an appropriate permit.
  • Musical instruments, including megaphones and speakers.
  • Shoes with high-heels or hard soles. Shoes with soft soles (like those found on tennis shoes or walking shoes/boots).
  • Children’s strollers. Only strap on baby/child carriers are permitted.
  • Walking sticks with a metal or hard point. Elderly people and physically handicapped people may use a walking stick provided that it has a rubber tip.

Some actions are prohibited, too.  As of July 1, 2017, you may not:

  • Climb or lean on walls or any part of the citadel.
  • Touch, move or remove any stone items / structures.
  • Make loud noises, applaud, shout, whistle and sing.
  • Smoke or use an electronic cigarette.
  • Feed the resident or wild animals.
  • Paraglide or fly any type of drone or small aircraft.

If you keep these regulations in mind when planning your trip, you will not find any unpleasant surprises once you get to Machu Picchu.

Wondering what a visit to Machu Picchu is like?  Click here to read about our experience!

Recommendations for a Trip to Machu Picchu

Recommendations for a Trip to Machu Picchu

Our Machu Picchu trip was not something that we had planned to do in advance.  In fact, it wasn’t on our radar at all, other than us saying, “I think it would be cool to see Machu Picchu someday.”  But when Spirit Airlines was offering a huge discount on Tuesday & Wednesday fares during the month of May, it meant that we could fly to Peru for just a tad over $200 per person.

At that price, who wouldn’t want to take a Machu Picchu trip?!?!?

This post is going to focus only on Machu Picchu recommendations.  I will have other posts dealing with Lima and Cusco and the Spirit Airlines experience.

The Prelude: Aguas Calientes

Much like Grand Canyon Village in Arizona, Aguas Calientes, or Machu Picchu Pueblo, is a dreadful little town where your options are limited and the prices are inflated.  Recommendation #1 is that if you know that going in, you will be prepared instead of disappointed.

Machu Picchu Trip Aguas calientes

Personally, I did find two aspects of our stay enjoyable.  First, we had a very good meal at Incontri del Pueblo Viejo.  The service was exceedingly slow, even by Peruvian standards, but the food was delicious and the ambiance was nice. Second, I got the best night’s sleep at Gringo Bill’s Hotel. The bed was the most comfortable of the entire trip.

The Preparations

Our plan was to get up at 4:00 AM and catch the first bus to the site at 5:30 AM so that we could see the sun rise over Machu Picchu. Thankfully, I checked the weather forecast beforehand, because it was calling for rain and clouds. We wisely decided to go later in the morning instead. If I had gotten up at 4 AM to see the sun rise and then couldn’t see it, I would have been seriously put out!

Recommendation #2 is to check the weather and prepare accordingly.

We found out that you could buy your bus tickets any day, not solely on the day that you visit Machu Picchu. We decided to go ahead and buy ours the day before so we would be ready to go after breakfast the next day.  I have two important tips for you here: you will need your passport to buy the bus ticket, and the bus ticket office only accepts cash or Master Card.  You will not be able to pay with a Visa.

The Ascent

The next morning after breakfast, we headed down to the area where the trains line up. There was a long line of people, but also a long line of buses, so the line moved quickly.  The bus ride takes about 20-30 minutes, but it feels longer because you’re going very slowly and zigzagging back and forth across the side of a mountain. Recommendation #3: If you are prone to motion sickness, you may want to consider taking some medication.  The ride is pretty bumpy and the bus lurches from side to side quite a bit while navigating the sharp turns.

The Arrival

When the bus finally pulls up to the Machu Picchu entrance point and you disembark, you will probably encounter someone asking if you want to hire them as a guide. Recommendation #4 is to do so, for a couple of reasons. First, there are no informational signs at Machu Picchu, no brochures, nothing to give you any sort of indication as to what you’re looking at or why it’s significant. I suppose you could purchase a guidebook and bring it with you, but who wants to be looking down and reading when they could be taking in the scenery while listening to the information? Not I.

The site

We waited until our guide gathered some more people, and then we entered. I cannot adequately describe the feeling that you get when you enter the site and see the vastness of it. It is nothing short of breathtaking.

There are massive mountains in front of you, with clouds hovering over and in front of them. Clouds, not fog! In both directions, up and down, you see row after row of terraces, where the Incas grew coca. Ahead of you is one lone tree in the midst of the remaining walls and structures.

Here is one of the first pictures I took:

new machu picchu recommendations rules july 2017

Our guide started the tour by telling us to look at the walls.  The Incas were masterful masons and architects.  These walls have been standing for roughly 600 years, and you won’t believe what’s holding them together.  The “cement” that they used was a mixture of clay, llama hair, cactus juice, and ash. Pretty incredible.

machu picchu recommendations stone wall

In other areas, stones had been cut with such precision that they fit together without any sort of cement or mortar.  These stones were smooth and flat, and reserved for use on special buildings, such as temples or the king’s residence.

machu picchu recommendations stonework

Most of the living quarters we saw – whether those of the king or of a common worker – had small cubbyholes built into the walls for them to store belongings.  And here I thought my closet space was on the small side:

machu Picchu recommendations storage space
Inca “closets” – cubbyholes built into the walls of the king’s bedroom.

Our guide told us that the Incas would sacrifice black llamas to their gods. I asked him why black llamas, and he explained that the black llamas were not as common as white or brown llamas. The black llamas, by virtue of their rarity, were considered special and therefore more pleasing to the gods.

There are (at least) four temples in Machu Picchu. One of the best known is the Temple of the Three Windows. Our guide explained that there were three windows to correspond with the symbolic animals that the Inca connected to creation:  the condor represented the spiritual realm, the puma represented the earthly realm, and the serpent represented the realm of the underworld.

machu picchu recommendations temple of the three windows
The Temple of the Three Windows

Perpendicular to the Temple of the Three Windows was the Main Temple. One side of it was sort of lopsided, which was due to natural conditions.

Main Temple machu picchu recommendations
Main Temple with rocks that have moved out of place over time.

I think that my favorite spot in Machu Picchu, however, is the Temple of the Condor, which quite literally resembles a condor.

machu picchu recommendations temple of the condor
Can you see the head and body of the condor on the ground, and its wings jutting up behind it?

At one point in our tour, I looked over to the right, where we had entered. I was amazed to see just how far the rows of terraced gardens extended down the mountain side.  I thought we had entered at the bottom of those rows, but we were in the middle. It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that they covered the entire side of the mountain.

machu picchu recommendations terraces
Row after row of terraces – and there are many more that you can’t see here!

There are at least thirty terraces in this photo, and even more that did not fit in the frame!

We also walked around a large grassy area that served as the Main Plaza, an important place for ceremonies, announcements, games, etc.  Our guide clapped his hands to demonstrate how it worked. The sound reverberated off the surrounding rocks and was amplified tenfold. Add acoustics to another skill of the Incas.

Machu Picchu recomendations central main plaza

In general, I was glad that we took our Machu Picchu trip when we did instead of waiting until we were older. Although we did not hike the Inca Trail, it was still a physically grueling place to visit (particularly when you have creaky knees like I do!). Here’s what my iPhone said I did that day:

machu picchu trip workout

138 flights!  Dang.  I’m tired all over again just thinking about it. So Recommendation #5 is to try and get in shape a little before you go. A little pain now will save you from a lot of pain later.

The Incas only lived at Machu Picchu for about 100 years, or three generations. They abandoned the site when the Spaniards began invading the area. So the Spaniards never found Machu Picchu, and for 400 years it sat dormant, slowly becoming swallowed up by the lush vegetation. The world knew nothing of its existence until a Yale professor named Hiram Bingham III found it in 1911.

One thing that I found really odd was how quiet it was there.  There were loads of tourists from all over the world, and yet for the most part it was peaceful and quiet throughout the site. Maybe because there is something about a place that big that reminds us of how tiny a speck we are in the grand scheme of things. Maybe because the history of the place is so sad and, frankly, a little overwhelming. Whatever the reason, Machu Picchu was a travel experience that I will relish for years to come. I highly recommend making the trip to see it.

Note:  Rules for touring Machu Picchu will be changing effective July 1, 2017. Click here to read my blog post outlining those changes and what you can expect

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!