14
Dec 16

Visiting the Taj Mahal

We spent the afternoon in Agra, home of the Taj Mahal. I didn’t realize it until I got to the Taj, that it is part of a huge complex of grounds and buildings. Photographs have a difficult time conveying the sheer scope of the place. What sets it apart from other sacred Islamic sites I’ve visited isn’t the size, it is the quality of the workmanship and materials, the craftsmanship, and the carving and ornamentation of the luminous white marble. The Taj Mahal really has to be seen to be believed, it is exquisite.

Taj Mahal. Agra, India. 2016

Taj Mahal. Agra, India. 2016

The light was soft and beautiful and I wanted to photograph the classic view. Three of the minarets had been cleaned and were gleaming white. The fourth minaret was in it’s scaffolding waiting it’s turn. I don’t think it detracts from the photograph, rather it shows that the Taj, no matter how seemingly perfect, is imperfect.


12
Dec 16

Exploring Delhi India

It’s taken me a few days to wrap my head around India so I’m going to take a deep breath and begin. We flew into New Delhi from Rome. Our takeoff had been delayed for 3 hours due to Delhi’s “fog” and as our plane descended, visibility was really poor with a veil of yellow hanging over the city. Clearing passport control, we greeted our guide, grabbed our luggage and headed outside.

India Arch. New Delhi, India. 2016

India Arch. New Delhi, India. 2016

I expected it to be humid but it was cool and pleasant, however that doesn’t begin to describe the air quality which was chokingly thick smog flavored with exhaust and wood fire smoke. Leaving the airport, the traffic stopped almost immediately and it was bumper to bumper, blaring horns all the way to the hotel. Rawboned women in ragged sari’s stood at our car windows, tapping on them and begging for food or money. This was a tough introduction to what is perhaps the most beautiful, spiritual and friendly country in the world.

Street. Delhi, India. 2016

Street. Delhi, India. 2016

The next morning we saw the sights of New Delhi. It was built by the British over a twenty year span from 1911 to 1931. It is the location where India gained it’s independence in 1947 and where Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated in 1948. It now serves as the nation’s capital. We visited the India Arch, government buildings and universities. We went to where Gandhi spent the last days of his life, fasting and spinning thread in his little room. Around New Delhi monkeys were everywhere, large ferocious monkeys and we were told not to make eye contact or they might cause us serious injuries.

Gandhi's Path. New Delhi, India. 2016

Gandhi’s Path. New Delhi, India. 2016

As the day wore on we moved to the older section of town simply called Delhi. Delhi has a rich history with the narrow streets, stalls, shops, and deep stacked buildings you’d expect to find in an old city. In many ways Delhi is reminiscent of Fes in Morocco, but Delhi is so much more lively. The people are friendly and this is where I learned my first lesson. I began to understand that the Indian soul is a joyous soul.

Barefoot. Delhi, India. 2016

Barefoot. Delhi, India. 2016

We traveled through the old market in bicycle rickshaws which was a great time and allowed us to see much more of the district than we could have on foot. We stopped at the spice market and it was bristling with activity. Spices hung heavily in the air, some people had cloth masks covering their nose and mouth, probably a good idea. We climbed, explored, chatted and photographed. We’ve been to so many city markets, spice markets and bazars that we’ve lost count. None of them have left so remarkable an impression on us as the one in Delhi.

Vegetables. Delhi, India. 2016

Vegetables. Delhi, India. 2016


06
Dec 16

A Day at the Vatican

Vatican Mass. Vatican City, Rome, Italy. 2016

Vatican Mass. Vatican City, Rome, Italy. 2016

We spent the day at the Vatican and as a history nerd, I was in heaven. It wasn’t just the art but the architecture and context. It was overwhelming, beautiful, gorgeous, magnificent. I loved the work by Raphael and Michelangelo particularly the Last judgement in the Sistine Chapel. St. Peter’s Basilica is the largest church in the world but it’s difficult to appreciate just how big until you’re standing in the middle of it. Also, it was a little weird to see real pope mummies in some of the side chapels but I understand that these are holy christian relics. I’ve seen body parts in reliquaries before, most notable at St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice.

I couldn’t help but compare Rome and the Vatican with Istanbul (formerly Constantinople) and Hagia Sophia. After the Emperor Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire from Rome to Constantinople in 330 A.D., his new city surpassed the glory of Rome becoming the wealthiest and most powerful city in the western world.

Hagia Sophia was built by the Roman Emperor Justinian in 537 after rioting in the city led to the deaths of thousands of citizens and the destruction of a significant part of the city. It remained the largest and most important church in the christian world for centuries until Constantinople was captured by the Ottoman Turks in 1453.

Byzantine Mosaic. Hagia Sophia. Istanbul. 2012

Byzantine Mosaic. Hagia Sophia. Istanbul. 2012

In St. Peter’s, there is a circle on the floor of porphyry marble just inside the entrance that was reused from an earlier church which was demolished to make way for the current Basilica. It was on this exact deep purple circle that Charlemagne knelt and was crowned Holy Roman Emperor by the pope during Christmas mass in 800 A.D. Thus the rivalry was established between the Byzantine Romans and the newly created Holy Roman Empire. Ironically the porphyry marble sarcophagi that once held St. Helena, the mother of Constantine as well as that of their daughter are both on display in the Vatican Museum.


28
Nov 16

Exploring Vienna

This was our first full day on our round the world adventure without jet lag so we decided to explore Vienna. Thankfully the old city center is small enough to be circumnavigated in a day. The morning was cold and after some wonderful local food and amazing Viennese coffee we headed for St. Stephen’s Cathedral and managed to sit in the pews for the last portion of the midday mass. Built in 1147 it is the spectacular crown jewel of the city and a must see.

St. Stephen's. Vienna, Austria. 2016

St. Stephen’s. Vienna, Austria. 2016

The weather had changed by the time we were back outside, much colder and snowflakes were tickling my nose. Many of the streets were lined with booths for local artisans selling holiday food and drink, arts and crafts. I bought Christy a small toy Squirrel and she was over the moon.

Garden Walk. Vienna, Austria. 2016

Garden Walk. Vienna, Austria. 2016

I wanted to see the area near the old city wall, which was demolished and replaced by the Ringstrade in 1857, where the Ottoman army of Kara Mustafa laid siege to the Vienna in 1683. It was hard to image looking at it, that the most ferocious carnage in European history prior to the 20th century took place in the location I was standing. It was now filled with happy holiday revelers, travelers, wide expanses of lawn, museums, shops and lovely little cafes.

Candlestick and Quiche. Vienna, Austria. 2016.

Candlestick and Quiche. Vienna, Austria. 2016.


29
Apr 16

Photographing Petra

This Roman era Nabatean city is one of the most photographed in the world. What do you think?

Mule Canyon. Petra, Jordan. 2012

Mule Canyon. Petra, Jordan. 2012


25
Nov 15

What is “the long view”?

I was having this conversation with a friend a few days before we left on our current Europe/Morocco expedition. She was asking me what I found most interesting as a traveler and why I found it so important to study history. I expressed my phrase, “I like to take the long view”.  For instance, I said, on the way in to see you this afternoon I noticed a small building. It was made with concrete blocks and stucco with a small arch and an array of windows reflecting facets of light and life. This wasn’t a particularly attractive building but that was not what caught my eye. What I saw were two thousand year old building techniques pioneered by the Romans that form the cornerstone of some of the greatest monuments of western civilization. Romans invented concrete, clear glass windows and the arch”.

Historically, successful ideas like concrete and the arch lead to the Pantheon and Colosseum, solved problems and moved society and culture forward. To me, the reason the long view has value is because it exposes the causal chains of how one idea leads to another and how additional minds contribute to the subject or idea connecting it to even more ideas as one thing stands upon another.

This is what I crave as a traveler. To understanding the world and the cultures and the people in it is to understand that they are the product of the causes and conditions of everything that has come before them. Understand those causes and conditions and those events and environments and you will have a better foundation to understand peoples, cultures, civilizations and the world. This is the long view.

RomanColumn

Two thousand year old spiral concrete columns. Roman Volubilis. Morocco, 2015