Colosseum Ampitheatre of the Roman Empire – 7 New Wonders


The Colosseum or Coliseum, also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre is an elliptical amphitheatre in the centre of the city of Rome, Italy.  Definitely growing up you hear all about the colleseum.  You hear about the stories of the gladiators the Ben Hur, the Christians and lions.  Colosseum could hold, it is estimated, between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators, and was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas.  It is a UNESCO heritage site and one of the New 7 Wonders of the World.

The Colosseum

This post is in a series of 7 posts on the 7 Wonders of the New World

  • Great Wall of China – Sacrifice of a Nation
  • Christ the Redeemer Statue – Religious Icon of Rio Brazil
  • Taj Mahal – Sacred Mausoleum of Agra India
  • Petra Jordan – Nabataean Cave City of the Desert
  • Machu Picchu – Lost Sacred City of the Incas
  • Chichen Itza – Ancient Mayan Temple Pyramid
  • Colosseum Amphitheatre of the Ancient Roman Empire
  • colloseumEmperor Vespasian had it built in around 70–72 AD, funded by the spoils taken from the Jewish Temple after the Siege of Jerusalem, but since then it has been robbed itself of blocks to build other things.

    You do have to pay to go into the colloseum.  Despite the fact that huge parts of it are now decrepid and missing, it’s handled time quite well.  It really is huge and impressive… Definitely worth seeing.  People dress up in Roman costumes.  There’s a lot to see nearby as well with the arch, great restaurants, and museums… it really does feel like the center of town and hey, there are more things close to this tube station than most others.  Getting around this was one of the easiest ancient things to find.

    Italian in Italy with a view of the coloseum

    Great Italian food nearby!!

    When in Rome!

    As they say… When in Rome!

    I’ve been to Rome a few times and it’s a city that’s a great city filled with tons of things to see and do.  Very easy to spend a week in.  In fact we did that a few years ago as a family.  While driving was a challenge, after a couple of days I was getting around pretty well.  Driving in Rome has gotten a lot easier than it was a few years ago with tons more scooters.  I do have to warn you that if you have your own rental car make sure you understand there are areas you can’t park without a permit.  As well, certain lanes you can’t drive in (bus/taxi lanes).  I’ve gotten towed in Rome once, and a ticket in the mail once.  So let’s just say, I’ve had some experience in this area.

    Rome is filled with tons to do.  There have to be more nuns and priests in Rome/ Vatican city than anywhere else in the world!

    Here are a few ideas…

    5 Additional Places to go when visiting Rome (or Italy) when visiting the Coliseum

    Happy Nuns

    1) St Peters Basilica, PLUS Vatican Musuem, and the MUST SEE! Sisteen Chapel… Shhhh! No Photos!

    Spanish Steps

    2. The Spanish Steps…

    Great social place to meet the locals and throngs of tourists as well

    Trevi Fountain Rome Italy

    2. Trevi Fountain

    Florence

    4. Day trip to Florence to see Michelangelo’s David

    Track down the Catacombs.  There are a few different ones.  We absolutely loved them as well.  Depends on your interests…

    5. Day trip to Pompeii and YOU MUST GO TO POMPEII! It’s one of the most amazing places on the planet.  There is another amphitheatre there, but you’ll see ruins like no other on the planet… KM or miles of them.

    There really area ton of things to see in Rome, pace yourself so you don’t get “ruin”-ed out or museum’ed out.  The Blocks and Columns start looking the same and religious paintings as well start blending together.

    Coliseum

Hitchhikers guide to the Baltics: Part 1 – Tallinn, Estonia

Russian Orthodox Alex Nevsky

I have really enjoyed exploring Eastern Europe.  After you visit western Europe a bunch of times, you’ll really appreciate Eastern Europe.  First it just seems so much more raw, so much more fresh.  It hasn’t had as much time in the media and still feels a bit undiscovered and off the radar of most tourists, and that’s one of the reasons it’s so amazing.  It’s that sense of adventure.  I was once visiting Helsinki, Finland just across the sea from Tallinn, Estonia and in fact saw that there was fast ferry that would take you across the sea to visit Tallinn in 3.5 hours.  I went to a nearby island and saved the Baltics for a trip where I’d get more than just a few hours.  Road trip across the Baltics and then meet up with friends at the border of Belarus sounded like a blast.

The Baltic states are three countries east of the Baltic Sea – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.  The full drive was around 8 hours on the road.  It’s a great road, and traffic wasn’t bad.  We didn’t need a GPS.

From Tallinn to Vilnius

I’ll cover a little bit on each one, but the point of these is to share my photos.  I flew into Tallinn, and my friend Paul and I rented a car one way and drove from Tallinn, Estonia to Riga, Latvia to Vilnius, Lithuania.  We had most of a day and a night in each capital.

Old Town within the gates of the city was our target.

 

town square in old town estonia

Above: Beautiful Town hall square in Old Tallin

cobble stone street in old town

Quaint old cobblestone streets

Alex Nevsky Russian Orthodox in Estonia

Above: Alex Nevsky – Russian Orthodox Church

 

Russian Hats in Estonian Hat store

Above: Fun with Hats: Left- Paul, next shop owner, and Me on the Right.

 

Must see top 5:

1. St Catherines Passage in Old Town

2. Old Town & Town Hall

3. Alex Nevsky Church

4. Walls & City Gates (especially Fat Margaret)

5. Toompea – Garden on Toompea Hill

Also sneak out to the waterfront, some beautiful views of the Baltic Sea.

 

Looking for more? My friend Michael shared his experience on Sharing the Globe – Journey through the Baltics – Estonia

Traveling Ireland’s Ancient and Natural Wonders

Cross in Ireland

Ireland has been inhabited for thousands and thousands of years.  For Eons and Ages, Ireland has constantly been inhabited and has a rich culture of folklore, myths, and a myriad of megalithic structures scattered across the country marking structures from these older ages.  Early man left evidence from the mesolithic, neolithic, stone, bronze, and iron ages. I love traveling to Medieval and Neolithic sites.  The ancient world history is fascinating to me.  From the pyramids and temples of Egypt to Avebury & Stone Henge and on to the Nazca lines and the underground cities of Goreme and Cappadocia.  I’m absolutely fascinated with it.  So much of what we know is so little.  We talk about these places like we know all about them, but honestly it’s pre-historic and we know very little and are still learning.

History in Ireland started in 400 AD with the spread of Christianity.  It’s amazing to think of it spreading so far and wide.  There are some amazing structures to see in Ireland.  Within a short drive from the beautiful city of Dublin, you can be at amazing places.  I recommend Wicklow for an afternoon at Glendalough.  Glendalough is a glacial valley in County Wicklow, Ireland. It is known for its early Medieval monastic settlement founded in the 6th century by St Kevin, a hermit priest.  It’s a beautiful drive and history itself unfolds as you walk amongst the graves, churches, and stone archways.

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Like these ancient sites.  Very easy to connect with nature and get a feel for what it was like in a village.  This tower entry reminds me of Rapunzel.  The entry to get in the tower is twenty feet off the ground.  Apparently the monks would climb up a latter and then pull it up.  They could drop rocks or oil and fire on the invaders.

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These ancient rock churches are beautiful, but not an uncommon site in Ireland.  They have lasted well through the ages.  You can see how important faith was through the ages.

Glendalough is home to one of the most important monastic sites in Ireland. This early Christian monastic settlement was founded by St. Kevin in the 6th century and from this developed the “Monastic City”. Most of the buildings on the site today date from the 10th through 12th centuries. Despite attacks by Vikings over the years, Glendalough thrived as one of Ireland’s great ecclesiastical foundations and schools of learning until the Normans destroyed the monastery in 1214 A.D.

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Amazing structures, history from an ancient time… you can feel it in your bones.

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Walking through the graves and the amazing Celtic crosses makes you feel an appreciation for the deep faith of the people.

Older than the Pyramids or Stone henge, Newgrange was an amazing find.  I was amazed to find such an ancient megalithic structure that I hadn’t heard of with such importance.  Driving north from Dublin straight north in the small town County Meath, Ireland on our way to Belfast and Northern Ireland, we saw a sign for this ancient site.  I was intrigued.  What is this Neolithic site I’ve never heard of?  Newgrange is a large mound in a circular shape with a stone passageway and decent sized chamber inside (no pictures inside).  On the tour they told us that during the 70’s some hippies were inside when it lit up during the winter solstice.  Apparently they really didn’t know what it was used for prior.  There’s still some confusion, but essentially this mount is not isolated.  There are a lot of them in a small area.

New Grange

This stone mound is surrounded by large stones with Neolithic carvings that still show up reasonably well.  I absolutely love the swirls.  It reminds me of the tail of the monkey in the Nazca lines.  What you don’t realize is just how old they estimate this place.

These megalithic structures are called portal tombs (a chamber consisting of upright stones with one or more large flat capstones forming a roof) or passage graves or dolmen often there is often no human remains. There are 40 of these passage graves near Newgrange.  The carvings on the rock are one of the largest collection of megalithic art.

megalithic artNewgrance megolithic

Incredible examples of one of the largest natural collection of Megalithic art… Newgrange is part of the Brú na Bóinne UNESCO World Heritage Site.

solstice lottery

On the tour, they simulate the light, but there is actually a lottery to be able to be one of the lucky handful who can be in the chamber when the light enters.

In Northern Ireland is one of the great natural wonders of Ireland.  The Giants Causeway.  This basalt has dried in amazing formations on the sea side.  It’s like Black Chrystal formations.

Giants Causeway beach, Northern Ireland

Giants Causeway, Northern Ireland

In the Giants Causeway with my sons.  I’m lucky to be able to travel with my family on occasion.  Ireland is a good family destination.  Very family friendly destinations, and accommodations. They really enjoyed Ireland as well, and to think I was afraid there wasn’t that much to see.  Incredible structures, incredible history, and very fun people.  I’d be happy to go back to Ireland… anytime.  So much more to see.

10 Must See Attractions In and Around Copenhagen Denmark the City of Cyclists


Copenhagen CyclistsCopenhagen bikes

One of the best ways to see Copenhagen, Denmark is the way the locals do.  On the seat of a bike.

Bicycles play a major role in the life of any local in Copenhagen. The bicycle is transportation for work, school, even night on the town with a date or night at the opera.  A special bike famous from Copenhagen is designed for transporting construction materials or appliances, bringing children to kindergarten, going for a ride. No matter what the purpose will be, the bike is the answer.Why do they pick a bike over a car or public transport?  It’s the fastest way of getting around in the city!

Nyhavn houses and bikes Nyhavn bridge

1. Nyhavn

One of my favorite parts of town is Nyhavn.  These beautiful buildings have so much color and character.  First you must stroll along this street either on the seat of a bike or strolling along on a walk.  There are canal tours for those who want to see it from the water side as well.  Great food along there as well.  I often ended my day along Nyhavn.

Nyhavn Panorama of the Canal

If you’re in Copenhagen for a conference, or cruise, or a holiday.  You will find plenty to do to fill your 24 hours in beautiful Copenhagen.

Amalienborg Palace Changing of the Guard

2. Amalienborg Palace

Amalienborg Palace is the Danish monarch’s winter residence on the waterfront in Copenhagen.  It’s in Copenhagen, so not hard to get to. Time your visit to watch the changing of the guard.

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3. Frederiksborg Castle

is a palace in Hillerød, Denmark part of the . It was built as a royal residence for King Christian IV.  Heading out to this place could be part of a day trip.

It is on the Castles tour from Copenhagen: North Zealand and Hamlet Castle tour There are multiple tours, so you’ll need to decide what you want to see most.

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4. Carl Bloch paintings

If you like religious art. I highly recommend tracking down the Carl Bloch (very famous Danish Painter) paintings in the Carl Bloch’s paintings in the Frederiksborg Palace collection.  They are very moving and are considered some of the best in the world.

royal courtyardamazing rooms Inside the palace

After I got home and started looking through all of the pictures from my castle tour I noticed I couldn’t tell which photos where from which palace.

Elsinore Castle - Kronborg Castle

5. Kronborg Castle

complete with moat, in Helsingor known as Elsinore Castle from  Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  This castle is a couple hours outside of Copenhagen.  Ask about it in relation to a castle tour.  Lonely Planet details: Hamlet Castle Tour

If you do have multiple days and looking at day trips out of Copenhagen, consider Malmo Sweden.  It’s an easy train ride over a very long and fun bridge.  There are a few things to see, and easy to make an afternoon out of it.

baby angels pipe organ Columns

The halls are so ornate I ended up taking hundreds of photos of columns, and gold and amazing sculptures and art work.  My first trip to Copenhagen was one of my first trips to Europe, and hence blew my mind in terms of seeing so much history and royal wealth.  It was mind numbing to see multiple days worth of palaces, castles, and cathedrals with so much history.  My eyes are now much more trained to recognize the history.  Now when I look at a marble column that doesn’t match I can imagine that it was likely borrowed from an earlier time period likely from a pagan temple.

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There are quite a few palaces, parliament buildings, castles, and historic buildings within and near Copenhagen.  Consider a Castle tour or two. Your head will be spinning with ancient places that you’ll be wondering what it was or what it is.

Tivoli at nightTivoli Gardens in Copenhagen

6. Tivoli Gardens

(Left – above at night, right from SAS Raddison Blue hotel window)

Tivoli is ancient and modern at the same time.  The structure and property has been an old amusement park from 1843.  It is world famous and shows up in many movies and may be the most famous places to visit in Copenhagen. Inside the garden you’ll find amusement park rides, activities and exhibits.  In the winter it becomes a winter wonderland decorated with lights and mechanical elves and Christmas decor.  I use Tivoli and the Train Station as a landmark when I’m walking around the city.  As well I will often try to book hotels close to Tivoli as it’s very central to downtown Copenhagen and walking distance of all of the good stuff including the Stroget walking street.

Strøget – The Strøget is 1.1 kilometers long and claims to be the world’s longest urban pedestrian zone.  It’s a very enjoyable walk with interesting high street shops.  You may find this is the best route from place to place on your bike or strolling along.

We did end up going up the round tower Rundetaarn at night.  It was interesting. It has specific time periods where it’s open.  Apparently it’s the oldest observatory in Europe.  It is worth tracking down.

Frederiks KirkeMarble Church domeFrederiks Kirk

8. Frederiks Kirke (The Marble Church)

this stately building is well worth a visit (above)

Speaking of churches. There are some other great churches in Copenhagen.

Church of our Lady Copenhagen

9.  Church of Our Lady

This church has a very special feel with amazing sculptures. This church is all focused on a greater than life sized Christ and his apostles grace the church.  As well a massive pipe organ plus a second story filled with columns in a very bright white church.   It has a very strong spirit about it.  This church is in Copenhagen and easy to walk to and open till 5pm most days.

Christus CopenhagenBertel Thorvaldsen's Sculptures

All of the sculptures were designed by Bertel Thorvaldsen.  If you like his work. There is a museum dedicated to his works next to the Christiansborg Palace.

Speaking of sculptures.  There’s one statue that most guidebooks will tell you that you can’t miss.  It’s the Hans Christian Anderson Little Mermaid Statue in Copenhagen.  It’s become quite the icon for the city.  She’s also loved to be hated.  She has gone through some rough times herself as she often gets chopped up and stolen.

Little Mermaid at Night - Copenhagen  Little Mermaid Copenhagen Denmark

10. The Little Mermaid

This isn’t the only statue in Copenhagen, but she is the most famous.  Since she’s by the water there are multiple ways to view her.  She is out near the old fort.  It’s quite a walk from downtown, but not impossible.

If you like art and statues.  Be sure to take it in.  There is a lot of variety around the city that is worth checking out.

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EAT!!

The Main CourseVenison fancy salad2 forks

Traditional meatballs and potatoesThey love to eat in Copenhagen.  The Danish are known for their food.  They have very elaborate long sittings with a variety of wines, beers, and non alcoholic drinks as well, I tried a rhubarb drink.  Often when you sit down to dinner at a nice place in Copenhagen, you’re sitting down for a 4+ or up to 6 course meal.  I think I had 5 forks in one meal.  They keep bringing out plates and plates of different little dishes of food for you to eat.  There’s a lot in the presentation.  The portions are small in the fine dinning arena.

Then there’s the traditional meat and potatoes.  Often meat balls and some small vegetables.  You can also get open faced sandwiches.  Copenhagen does have a variety of food, but in most cases you are committing yourself to relaxing and enjoying yourself.  If you’re use to American style, where you are there for the food and not the ambiance, you may have to let your waiter know when you need them.

Christiania Beer  Art of Christiania

10. Christiania

Alternative living… was founded in 1971 when a group of citizens knocked down the fence to an abandoned military area and set up a new hippie community, completely independent of the Danish government.  In 2012 the Christiania fund bought the land.  It’s now a bunch of artists, but they’ve gotten creative.  They now have their own beer.

This place is unique in the world.  It’s a bit of burning man every night.  It’s a place that means different things to different people and the expression that comes from it has a wide variety as well.

– Real freedom of different types to different people: Check your politics and biases at the door.

– Anarchy – No RULES! Well, this has definitely changed over time.

– Shared living, shared everything.  Those hey day are over.  Now you’ll find there are businesses and art studios, where years ago anyone would be obliged to share.

– A place to do drugs in peace without the law.  There are still soft drugs a plenty.  Be careful with your camera.

– While capitalism was what they were trying to get away from, there’s quite the little cottage industry from the artists during the day, and at night it’s the bars and cafes

There has been spouts of violence in the past, but this is really a unique place.  I have really enjoyed my time there, but it’s not or everyone.

Vor Frelsers Kirke - The Church of our Saviour

Vor Frelsers Kirke (The Church of our Saviour)

is located at Christianshavn and was built in the years 1682 to 1696.

I hope you enjoyed this story among some of the others that I have posted.  I put this post together for my sister, Tamra who is doing a cruise from Copenhagen.  I hope she enjoys it.  She has a passion for travel that’s contagious.  Please like or rate the post, and I definitely welcome feedback.  As a traveler I love telling the stories and pointing out places to see or things to do.  I’ve been to Copenhagen twice, most recently in January and the first time with my wife.  I loved it both times. I’m sure you’ll love it too.

Joel in Copenhagen

Mysteries of the Rock of Gibraltar and the Barbary Apes


Barbary Apes

 

I love travel mysteries and Gibraltar has lot of deep stories that make it one of the most powerful, interesting and mysterious places.  It’s said that this place once held greek temple to Hercules and the caves inhibited by early man… maybe even the last hold out for the Neanderthal.  There is a labyrinth of tunnels that are longer than the trails that go over the top and caves filled with mystery from early inhabitants.  It is first recorded in history as the “pillars of Hercules” from Greek Mythology. Until Columbus it marked the edge of the known world.  It’s a magical place filled with mystery that transcends time.

Here are a few of the things we saw..

  • Wild Barbary Apes in Europe – Living on the Rock of Gibraltar are the only wild apes in Europe
  • An International Airport runway that people can drive across, the only road into Gibraltar
  • A gigantic gun that can shoot from Europe to Africa
  • A viewpoint for viewing the straights of Gibraltar to Africa
  • Hop a ferry to Africa or Spanish Morocco on the African Continent
  • Century’s old military Tunnels and caves inhabited by Neanderthals and Neolithic times

gibraltar map

Here’s a snippet on the history of Gibraltar… “It was first inhabited over 50,000 years ago by Neanderthals and may have been one of their last places of habitation before they died out around 24,000 years ago. Gibraltar’s recorded history began with the Phoenicians around 950 BC; the Carthaginians and Romans later worshipped Hercules in shrines said to have been built on the Rock of Gibraltar, which they called Mons Calpe, the “Hollow Mountain”, and which they regarded as one of the twin Pillars of Hercules.”

One of the craziest airports in the world, Gibraltair International (GIB) has daily flights to and from Heathrow, Gatwick, and Luton.  Went through all 3 airports in one day once.  I don’t recommend it.  As well Malaga is only 120 kilometers away.  Notice how the airport goes through the only road that goes into Gibraltar.  Locals call it Gib (sounds like jib).  The locals even have a British sounding accent, but they used GIP Pounds or Euros in most of the places where I went.  There are a number of Spanish as well that live in Gib.  While the Gibraltarians have their own culture, it’s definitely a mix of english and spanish supporting a very strategic military installation mostly turned tourist attraction.  I don’t think the apes realize just how important that little strip of land has been over time.  It get’s stirred up every 50-100 years it seems to me.  Spain still doesn’t seem too happy for it to be there.   

Gibraltar is not part of the Schengen Area. This means that there are immigration and customs controls when travelling between Spain and Gibraltar. Citizens of the European Union are required to have a national identity card or passport, while all others are required to have a passport to enter.  Right after you cross the border you cross the airport.  Hopefully while you’re there you’ll see a plane coming in or out… it’s a beautiful site.

I do encourage you to read the history.  The wikitravel article on Gibraltar has a sview of africa from europehort but decent write up.  The history of Gib goes all the way back to Neolithic times, some evidence in St Michael’s cave. 

As far as visits go, take the gondola up the rock and spend time with the apes.

Quite the view… across the straights, you can see Africa!

There are very few spots in Europe where on the other side you can see Africa.  It’s a real treat as a traveler to be able to be this close to two of the huge continents and see history reveal itself.  I had no idea that it was real UK territory. It’s fascinating.  If you like traveling to unique places this is a real draw for a number of reasons.  The Apes, the military arsenal, the huge iconic and powerful rock, the majestic views, and the point at which Africa is close to Europe.  There’s a lot of symbolism and exciting parts to this story.  I’m sure you’ll love it.  I mean come on, it’s also very close to Morocco, one of my favorite places to time travel, and to some of the most relaxing parts of Europe.  The Ferry is just down the road to visit the islands… It’s a great destination.

When I visited, we went to Spanish Morocco and then a night taxi ride to Fez.  What a fabulous place cultural that is. 

 

big guns

The Barbary macaque or Barbary ape, is a species of macaque with no tail. Traditionally found in the Atlas Mountains.  There is a small population, about 5 troops and 300 individuals in Gibraltar with an unknown origin.  They are the only monkeys or apes in Europe. The Barbary apes are the best known species from the old world.  They are recognized as an endangered species.  If you visit Morocco you can visit a troop in the forest. 

The Rock is beautiful and iconic.  It rises in such a way that you can understand why it’s used in Greek Mythology, and why companies even now like Prudential take advantage of it’s symbolism.  It carries power.  Over time it has been one of the most densely fortified and fought-over places in Europe.

Did I wet your appetite?  Maybe you’ll consider this amazing place filled with mystery.

The Rock Hotel Barbary ape looks over the Gibraltar cliffs

Road Less Traveled: Top 5 Travel Destinations of Armenia

Crazy Foot bridge

Rickety Old Foot bridge

Armenia view Mt. Ararat, the site where Noah’s Ark landed, according to Genesis 8:4. In addition, Armenia has the distinction of being the first country to adopt the Christian faith (301 A.D.) and being evangelized by two of Jesus’ apostles (Bartholomew and Thaddeus). The landscape is dotted with ancient churches and monasteries.

Armenia may not currently be a top of tourist destination due to the challenge of getting there, but my experience is there is a lot of hidden gems and may be one of the top emerging religious tourist destination yet to be discovered, it’s off the radar for most.  It’s definitely an ancient kingdom that has been passed from empire to empire until it gained it’s independence from the Soviet Union.  Since that time it’s had a hard time with a couple of it’s neighbors.  There’s some disputed Territory that was a gift from Stalin to Azerbaijan and another to Turkey.  The Turkish relationship isn’t as strained it appears, but the Azerbaijani relationship is still strained with land disputes.

Khor Virap Monestary

(Above: Khor Virap Monestary)

There are some amazing destinations in Armenia.  The history of Armenia is fascinating.  I do think it’s worth visiting and not one to overlook in your visit to the former soviet union and in your visit to the Caucuses.  You really have to plan your routes through this region of the world.  For example simply flying into Armenia is a challenge.  We found getting from Georgia to Armenia was a great way of seeing the region and there were many more flight options into Tbilisi such as through Istanbul (one of my favorite cities for extended layovers).  Both Georgia and Armenia are Christian nations.

1. Where Noah landed the Ark – Mt Ararat viewing from Khor Virap Monastery – The Khor Virap Monastery is a 17th century Church provides a spectacular and majestic view of Mount Ararat and one of the most visited church and tourist spot of Armenia.  Saint Gregory was imprisoned in a pit for 13 years and as the story goes came out and the miracle of surviving this pit resulted in a conversion of the King and further prostylting led to the country converting to Christianity in 301 AD.

Khor Virap - The pit

The Pit – Climbing down these steps is a freaky experience.  It feels like the latter isn’t straight up and down.  It feels like you’re leaning backward.

Khor Virap in the shadows of Mt Ararat

Khor Virap Monestary with the Bible famous Mt Ararat in the Background.  There were some farmers burning their fields that day, so the mountain isn’t as looming in this photo.

2. Garni Temple – The oldest and best preserved Pagan temple in the world.  This building plays a significant role in the establishment of Armenia as a country and hence has been preserved where a lot of pagan temples around the world were destroyed with the rise of Islam and Christianity.

Garni Pagan Temple in Armenia

The nearly 2000 year old temple has some older structures around it including some interesting mosaics and likely one of the most incredible views of river valley which remind me of the Ihlara Valley in Turkey and have similar looking basalt columns of the Giants causeway of Ireland.

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(View inside of the Garni temple)

While we were there, some pagans were holding a ritual for one of their members who was off to join the military.

3. Etchmiadzin Cathedral is the oldest state-built church in the world.  While meditating in the old capital city of Vagharshapat, Gregory had a vision of Christ’s coming to the earth to strike it with a hammer. From the spot rose a great Christian temple with a huge cross. He was convinced that God intended him to build the main Armenian church there. The Etchmiadzin Cathedral is the oldest state-built church in the world. The original vaulted basilica was built in 301-303 by Saint Gregory the Illuminator with the Kings help when Armenia became the first officially Christian country in the world.He renamed the city Etchmiadzin, which means “the place of the descent of the only-begotten.”  This UNESCO herritage site is a 4th Century church with a rich history of the Christian nation of Armenia.

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Courtesy Wikipedia

There was construction going on on the turrets while I was there so my photo didn’t turn out this great.  The church is part of a greater complex of religious buildings including religious seminaries.

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Above: Seminary Students and Armenian Priests in the greater complex

4. Armenian Genocide Complex – Memorial Complex of Tsitsernakaberd

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Right near the national stadium is the Genocide memorial with an eternal flame and a pillar pointing toward heaven.  My friend Marvel told us stories of his families making the experience very personal.  The Government of the Ottoman Empire ordered the  destruction of Armenians in Anatolia (Eastern Turkey) in an organized expulsion and extermination of Armenians. Women, children and elderly were from February 1915 sent on death marches towards the Syrian desert.  Some 1 million to 1.5 million died.

Apparently there is controversy in the use of the term “genocide” as Turkey and Azerbaijan choose to say these events were part of the war.  It’s very sad.

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Armenian Genocide Memorial 1915-1922, the flowers pile up in a circle around the flame.  Online there’s a 3-D video of the Armenian Genocide complex including the ability to place flowers.

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5. Yerevan Republic Square – The Republic Square is the place where ceremonies and meetings are held. The statue of Lenin used to be located in the southern forehead of the square, but when Armenia regained its independence, the statue was brought down.  Now you’ll find dancing fountains in the summer.

The square is surrounded with seven major buildings:

  • The National Gallery and the History Museum building (north).
  • The Ministry of Territorial Administration (north-east).
  • The Government House: holds the main offices of the Government of Armenia (north-east).
  • The Central post-office of the Republic of Armenia (south-east).
  • The “Mariott Armenia” hotel (south-west).
  • The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (north-west).
  • The Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources (north-west).

Republic Square Yerevan

Republic Square Yerevan

Christmas in central republic square

Vernisaj Market in Yerevan Armenia

Vernisaj Market in Yerevan, this is a must see on the weekends.  Lots of fun things for travelers.  Lots of crafts involving Noah and the local landscapes.

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This is the Old Yerevan Restaurant Band.  There were tons of fun.  Lots of great food to eat.  The food was one of my favorite things about Armenia.  Lots of great food.

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Traveling Marvelous Minsk Belarus


It started with a tweet from a would be friend and an invite to speak in Minsk.  Would I?  Oh wow.  Minsk conjures up ideas of the old communist soviet world.  Now while still very iconic in communism I have found it very charming, and a mix of old and new.  The soviet symbols are very alive in Minsk where in many capital cities of the old soviet empire they have been removed.

I met with several Belarussians a couple of times before my visit to Minsk.  They were all very intelligent, Belarus on the map of Europeconsiderate and faithful friends.  One friend helped work out all the logistics for a friend and I to meet him at the border, and we’d meet up with other friends at the airport.  Minsk should not be underestimated as a very important country in Eastern Europe with nearly 9 million citizens.

Minsk Library

I see a bright future ahead in the area of IT for sure.  The people I met have very bright minds and a hope for bridging gaps to join Russia or the EU.  Soviet BuildingBelarus appears to have lingering thoughts on the heydays of the former empire and has held onto memories more than many of it’s neighbors.  Many of the soviet style communist buildings old and new rise high in the city of Minsk.  A city of industry and power, it is a fascinating place to visit.  The western world appears to have little knowledge of the fascinating place that Minsk is and how important it has been in history.

The hammer and sickle appear on many government buildings and even in the tube.

hammer and sickle

Across the street from our hotel was the famous KGB building.  It reminds me of days past where CIA vs. KGB and MI6 was something from a James Bond Movie.  While those days of distrust may be mostly behind us. I have found great friendship and hope that we can move past that and continue to progress toward an open and peaceful world.  The development community in Belarus is a powerhouse.  In my experience they are very well versed in the IT field and as well are great partners.

I believe a lot of this distrust comes from misunderstanding and something that politicians and diplomats have yet to fully bridge.  Wandering the streets of Minsk you’ll be sure to see the symbols of a powerful working class.  You can’t blame them for wanting to take care of the poor and removing class, but the power in the hands of the wrong people creates corruption.  I had the opportunity to drive across a few hundred miles of the lush and green Belarussian countryside.  It’s beautiful.  Minsk is up and coming.  Beautiful shopping centers, tall apartment buildings, and it offers a lot to its people, with hopefully more freedoms and global diplomacy to come.Victory Square Minsk

Today most non belarussian folks… westerners especially, require a Belarussian visa that expires within 90 days or a year.  There’s still some distrust, but I believe the rising generation is very interested in connecting and bridging the old ways and looking at new ways to move things forward.  Belarus has a lot of history and pride and it doesn’t like to be told what to do.  It will require a lot of patience, but I pray it’s coming around.

We would do good to try to understand that history, and continue to create friendships and bridge our world.

For me, I spent the evening in a banya (spa) in Minsk…creating friendships that will last a lifetime.  I have a better appreciation for the Belarussian people, and a strong desire to return.  Thanks for the amazing tour of your beautiful country.

Ancient Cliff Monasteries of Meteora Greece

Greek Cliff Monasteries

I was inspired by a photo on Bing.  I saw what looked like huge granite rocks with old buildings hanging off the sides.  As I did research I found these monasteries from 500+ years ago that continue to exist in inhospitable places.  I was sure they were designed for protection back in the day, but I had to see these wonders. They seemed so incredible.  These are protected as UNESCO world heritage sites.

Wikipedia article on Meteoragives us a little info on the age… The cave of Theopetra, Kalambaka, radiocarbon evidence for 50,000 years.  In the 9th century, a group of hermit monks moved up to the ancient pinnacles.  The oldest monasteries are from the 13-14th century.

I planned out my trip.  I’d fly into the closest airport I could find, Thessaloniki and assume that I could either rent a car or pay someone to take me.  (I later found Volos is 2 hours, so it’s a little closer but wasn’t as accessible.) There is actually a train (3 hours) leaving every 2 hours.   I was in a big rush and ended up paying a taxi driver and while I can’t say it worked out perfectly because his estimate for drive time was off by an hour and I missed my flight, but I will say it was worth it to see these amazing cliff monasteries of Meteora Greece.  The Wiki travel page explains there are a total of 24 monasteries atop rock pinnacles.

The drive was actually about 3 hours outside of Thessaloniki.  It isn’t well marked, and this did cause some confusion for my driver who knew they existed and had visited the cliff monasteries, but didn’t remember exactly how to get there.

Driving through the Olympus mountains themselves was quite surreal.  Next time I’ll definitely rent a car and spend way more time in this much quieter part of Greece.  Athens was nice, but Northern Greece and the Thessaly and Macedonian region is so beautiful and peaceful.  I won’t get into the dispute of FYOM Macedonia which I blogged about previously.

Looking out at Meteora and Kalampaka from above one of the cliff monasteries.

Above: View of the city Meteora from atop one of the cliffs.  There are a huge variety of different monasteries.  One of the most famous is Agias Varvaras Rousanou.  At first I thought there was only one with just different angles.

Driving you’ll see the following monasteries:

  • Agiou Nikolaou monastery(St. Nickolas Anapausas)
  • Agias Varvaras Rousanou monastery(St. Barbara)
  • Varlaam monastery
  • Megalou Meteorou monastery(Great Meteoron)
  • Agias Triados monastery(Holy Trinity)
  • Agiou Stefanou monastery (St. Stephen, the only monastery for women)

You can visit the monasteries for a small fee around 2 euros each.  The hours are limited, so be sure to check open hours.

Night view of the Acropolis in Athens with my traveling friend Paul Swider.

Old Watch Tower on the Bay in Thessaloniki

As a Christian I find visiting the city that the Apostle Paul wrote about in the Bible. The book Thessalonians is based on a letter to the people living here. That’s cool stuff. I recommend Ephesus in Turkey as well for similar reasons, and may be a good city to add on to this trip.

The Greek Orthodox churches in the cities, while still cool looking definitely don’t have the same feel as those in the cliffs.

Greek Orthodox Church in Thessaloniki

Russia Travel Rocks – St Petersburg to Majestic Moscow

Red Square Moscow

Russia is just the most amazing place.  Part of this for me is just the pure history of the last century, but also it’s just so prominent on the globe.  Russia has been so imperial.  So majestic.  So mysterious. There’s the crazy cold war, and my favorite the space race.  Forget about the arms race, although I really do need to visit Chernobyl.  I did fly over it on a jet on my way out of Moldova. Can you believe it? The US is now hitching rides with the Russians into space to the international space station.  Amazing how the dynamics themselves have definitely changed.  At least the space people are collaborating.

Red Square - State Historical Museum

When I was growing up I remember looking for places to hide just in case the Russians came.  There was the attic, and the potato cellar.  Either way Russians were always the enemy, but in church we would talk about when Russia would be open for the preaching of the gospel.  The end of the world would come shortly after missionaries entered Russia, or so it would seem. Ronald Regan had that big arms race thing.  The “Wall” comes down and shortly Russia would be open for preaching of the gospel.  I’d hear of friends who would go there on their missions.  There was stories that reached all the way to Idaho about the first McDonalds in Russia and how lines wrapped around the block or worse.  Fast forward a few years, and I’m a minority on a Russia majority software company up in Seattle.  I find these “refugees” are amazing, and I’m fascinated with their culture.  I never hated Russians, just fascinated by their culture and the communist machine.  So many stories about how we should be extremely worried about anything that had anything to do with it.  Living in Seattle, I’d find a HUGE Leningrad Lenin at a coffee shop.  There was even communist magazines and articles in Fremont area in Washington, that made it seem almost cool to be communist, because it was racy.  Why do I give you this terse background story?  Because going to Russia is a HUGE rush.  Most American’s have some weird ideas of what it would be like to go to Russia.  How dangerous it might be, what might happen.  The crazy Russian Mafia stories.

First thing I had to do as an American was getting the Russian Visa.  It was the longest visa form I’ve ever filled out.  I started having doubts that they might not admit me.  It’s not just asking about my passport details and where I’m going… It gets into my parents and grandparents on both sides.  It asks about every country I’ve visited plus dates, that’s a pretty good list that ends up being pretty complex.  Despite the complexity and the couple of weeks it took.  I get the visa!!  I’m on my way to Russia.  What’s better I’ve got colleagues in St. Petersburg and I’ve got a SharePoint user group meeting setup in Moscow.  So work is paying for hotels, and all I’ve got to do is cover a train ticket from St. Petersburg to Moscow.  The Nevsky express!  Strangely about a week after that train ride that same train would get blown up and derailed by Chechen Rebels. Crazy.

St Petersburg Church of Spilled Blood

Pictured Above:  One of my favorite buildings in St Petersburg is the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. This Church was built on the site where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated and was dedicated in his memory.

Continue reading “Russia Travel Rocks – St Petersburg to Majestic Moscow”

Rediscovered Europe: Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina

Island in Bled Slovenia

I had seen most of Western Europe when I visited the Balkans, but I wasn’t prepared for the beauty and raw elements of war I would see.  Mountain views, lakes and valleys that would rival the best of Switzerland, rivers that rival the beauty of Idaho’s and untouched wilderness, the bridge in Mostar rival the arches of the canals of Venice, but evoke an emotional response.  The worst of the war torn parts remind me of some parts of Beirut.  Even the West Bank has been more cleaned up than some of the pits out of the buildings in Sarajevo.  The stories of the rebuilding of the Synagogue in Sarajevo… How many times can a building be rebuilt?

Night in Zagreb, Croatia

In contrast, Roman emperors vacationed in Croatia. croatia_bosnia Dubrovnik and Split are incredibly scenic and would rival that of any ports in Italy or France, and a fresh seafood or fish dinner would cost you much less.  I guess what I’m saying is, I loved it.  Belgrade and Sarajevo are the hidden gems of Europe, the passion and life, and recent history to blow your mind.  The travelers looking for secrets in Europe.  Here’s a great place to start.  It’s the Balkans.  Some of my best friends in Europe.  There’s something that goes deeper here.  Relationships are stronger, and go deeper, you can feel it.

My trip started in Zagreb the capital of Croatia with a night tour. We met up for a great dinner and ended up walking around parliament, and old town Zagreb. Zagreb itself did avoid much of the conflict in the Balkan conficts/wars that happened back in 92-93.

Remnants of the war are still visible.  There are more reasons to come and visit than the incredible night life.  There are fresh memories that will teach the world a lesson… this lesson is war is not kind to anyone.  War should be avoided at all costs, and the horrors and nightmares of war are real.  Those who only vacation at Disneyland or Disneyworld and spend their vacations with the Grand Canyon as the ultimate bucketlist need to come for a visit.  This land has a lot of lessons to teach. 

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When we got close to the Republik of Srpska we came across these signs.  After spending time at the Cambodia land museum, I have been convinced that land mines do more danger to the citizens that have to live with these than any good they do for the military.  There are some crazy stats on how much the people are impacted by these.

 

Now before you think it’s all doom and gloom, that’s totally not the key take away.  It’s the opposite.  In fact my friend Michael, who I was traveling with, recently wrote about his experience on this same trip.  I highly encourage reading about his writeup on the former Hapsburg empire – Serbia, Romania, Bosnia & Herz, Montenegro, and Croatia. This trip started with a fellow colleague who lived in Croatia, Toni Frankola, a speaking team of Michael Noel, and Paul Swider.

This place is amazing, but as an American tourist, that gets a rise out of seeing something unlike anything I can find within the US or Western Europe.  I get excited. This was one of the best Europe vacations I’ve ever done.  I’ve seen Dubrovnik and Mostar on the front page of Bing on multiple occasions.  They really are spectacular.  The castle in Belgrade was an awesome place to walk around.  The cultural music and dancing we got at night was spectacular.  Very fun environment.  I think it was a good thing for Toni as well, as he recognized some of the tunes, and was surprised to see the similarities between Croatia and Serbia.  Good stuff.

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Continue reading “Rediscovered Europe: Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina”