Religious Sites and Celebrations: The Bucket List

Interior Wieskirche Church, Germany (Photo credit: Amy S Eckert, c 2013)

Admiring Germany’s Wieskirche Church, UNESCO World Heritage Site

If there is a perfect example of Bavarian rococo architecture, the Wieskirche Church is probably it. Set among verdant, rolling Alpine foothills, surrounded by Bavarian farms and accessible by narrow country roads, the Wieskirche also comes Read More

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Visiting the Durham Home of the Prince Bishops

It is difficult to imagine a defensive structure more strategically situated. Guarded by steep slopes descending to an almost complete loop of the River Wear, Durham Castle remained impregnable for eight centuries. Yet even this fortress is dwarfed Read More

The construction of the Taj Mahal in the 17-th century took 22 years (Photo credit: MCArnott)

Connecting with the White Marble of the Taj Mahal

  The grand finale of my trip to India is neither a massive fort nor a sumptuous palace,  it's a mausoleum: the Taj Mahal. For some of the Indian celebrities interviewed on the occasion of its 350th anniversary (in 2004) the love story was Read More

Maulbronn Monastery (photo credit: Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten Ba.-Wü.)

Uncovering 860 Years of History at UNESCO Site Maulbronn Monastery

The road snakes through the German countryside, through forested hills and past tiny sparkling lakes in Baden-Württemberg. It’s a region famous for Germany´s Black Forest, the kind of place I always hope for when I plan a trip to Germany. Towns lie Read More

Hand painted altar in a Franciscan church (©photocoen).

Discovering Franciscan Churches around Asunción, Paraguay

It all started with a photo: a beautiful photograph of an old wooden altar featuring an angel killing a devil, painted in blue tinges. Some of the paint had chipped off and the wood was damaged, and it was clearly a piece from colonial times. The Read More

Where the Tooth Relic is kept. (Roberta Sotonoff)

Attending the Perahera Festival in Kandy, Sri Lanka

Tammattam drums throb in the distance. The steady boom, boom, boom of these small-sized, kettle-like drums grow louder. Their rhythm is almost hypnotic. Then comes the sound of cracking whips. A troupe snaps them to the drum beats. For the next four Read More

The entrance through the Passion facade (Ann Burnett)

Awe-struck at the Sagrada Familia Basilica, Barcelona, Spain

Our first view of the Sagrada Familia is from the top of Montjuic Hill at the end of the funicular ride up from the Ave Paral.lel. My eyes sweep over the panorama below Barcelona, and then, rising above it, the unmistakeable shape of Gaudi’s Read More

Almshouses, Bruges

Stepping Back in Time in the Almshouses and Beguinages of Bruges, Belgium

I must be honest. I’d never heard of a beguinage (or begijnhof, in Flemish) until I came to Bruges. Somehow the concept passed me by in my preliminary pass through the guidebook: I was too busy getting excited about bell towers, boat trips and Read More

Tree roots grow over a temple in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Exploring the Angkor Archaeological Park in Cambodia by Bicycle

I'm covered in sweat. Sweat is pouring down my back under my t-shirt, and my hair is soaked. I don't mind the sweat, because I'm looking at my favorite temple in the Angkor Archaeological Park so far: Ta Phrom. Unfortunately there are about a million Read More

No matter where you look in Ouro Prêto, you'll always see at least one church (©Coen Wubbels)

Being Enchanted by Brazil’s Best-Preserved Colonial Town of Ouro Prêto

Around 1700 gold was discovered in the state of Minas Gerais. In 1711 Vila Rica de Ouro Prêto (Rich City of Black Gold) was founded, which soon became the capital of the state and epicenter of Brazil's biggest gold rush. Thousands of slaves dug out Read More

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Sleeping like Monks in the Caves of Goreme in Cappadocia

As an independent traveler, it happens every so often: You find yourself walking beside a road in the middle of the desert, cars whizzing by you with little regard, no more than a bottle of water and a book in your bag. It was that way one afternoon Read More

Arches of La Mezquita, Seville

Exploring Cordoba’s Mezquita: the Mosque that Became a Cathedral

The cavernous space of La Mezquita in Cordoba makes me think of Russian dolls. Standing right in the middle of the 8th century mosque is a perfectly formed Renaissance cathedral. What is more, the mosque grew out of an earlier Visigoth church, which Read More

Stone wall with a carved row of flowers and leaves, at each end there is a strange best. One looks like a bat and the other is more like a snarling lion.

Searching for Souls at Westminster Abbey, A UNESCO World Heritage Site in London, England

Why visit Westminster Abbey? Occasionally I go to indulge my private delusions of grandeur. Before I can be crowned Queen of England, approximately a billion people will have to die. Then, when I'm first in line, I'll follow tradition and have my own Read More

The estancia of Jesús María stands out for its wrought iron fence and gratings (©Coen Wubbels)

Exploring the Jesuit Estancias in Córdoba, Argentina

When in the 16th century the Jesuits came to Argentina, they founded schools and universities in Córdoba, an area today referred to as the Jesuit Block. In order to finance these institutions estancias were set up in the surrounding areas, where Read More

Castle of Ali Pasha, Ioannina

Finding Byzantium in the byways of Ioannina, Greece

As my sisters and I disembark the ferryboat onto into a calliope of sound, smell, and color, we walk up to what seems to be a pet shop. Chickens and doves squabble in hanging cages. Turtles elbow frogs for a better view. Eels shimmer amidst schools Read More

The decorated walls and carved pillars characterize Bolivia's Jesuit Missions (©Coen Wubbels)

Touring the Jesuit Missions in La Gran Chiquitania of East Bolivia

150 kilometers of unpaved road meander through thick forest and cattle ranches in eastern Bolivia. The road takes me to my third Jesuit Mission: Santa Ana. It's the smallest of the six missions that make up the UNESCO World Heritage Site of La Gran Read More

Wat Mahathat, Ayutthaya, Thailand

Exploring the Historic City of Ayutthaya, Thailand, by Bicycle

As I park my bicycle next to a 7/11 and a collection of souvenir shops, I realize Ayutthaya is not going to be the step back in time I hoped it would be. It feels more like a history theme park. Before I came to Ayutthaya – the old capital of Read More

If you climb to the top of the Giralda Tower, you'll enjoy prime views of Sevilla.

Exploring Sevilla’s Cathedral, Alcázar and Archivo de Indias

Slowly and steadily, the line of people plods upward. Sighing, panting, gasping, straining. The woman in front of me desperately wants to commiserate with me about this relatively arduous trek, but I don’t speak French. Finally, she holds up three Read More

Maitreya Buddha Statue in Thikse Gompa, Ladakh, India

Learning About Tibetan Buddhism in Thiksey Monastery, Ladakh, India

In the corner of a small, dark room, a monk in red robes sits huddled over a book. In candlelight he shows me pages of neat text in long rows, and explains the writing is Tibetan. The book, like the hundreds of others crammed on the shelves on the Read More

Pollensa refugio

Climbing the Calvario: a Pilgrim’s Trail in Pollença, Majorca

“One hundred!” says my husband, stopping in triumph on a broad limestone step. He’s got there first. Or has he? I tramp on past him, another three steps. “No,” I correct him, “this is one hundred.” We stare at each other without animosity and then Read More

The Bezeklik, or Bizaklik, Thousand Buddha Caves in Turpan, China (©photocoen)

Touring Xinjiang’s Historical Sites Around Turpan, China

I traveled for thirty hours by bus traversing one of the world's largest deserts – the Taklamakan Desert – and got off in the middle of nowhere in a town called Turpan. I was intrigued by the region for two reasons: The extremes of landscape: a Read More

Sunrise Prayers at the Jinding Temple of Mount Jizu in Yunnan, China (©photocoen)

Hiking up the Holy Mountain of Mount Jizu in Yunnan, China

It's 2am and we're up and about to climb a 3248-meter-high mountain: the Chicken Foot Mountain, which is the translation of Jizu Shan. By leaving at this time we will be ahead of the crowd of visitors that will start climbing in an hour or so, and Read More

angkor_wat_sunrise

Exploring the Angkor Wat Temples in Cambodia

I'm looking at the Hindu god Vishnu, whose legs are being massaged by his wife Laksmi. The sculpture is lying in a stream in a tropical forest and is surrounded by twittering birds and fluttering butterflies. The sight is utterly peaceful. It's the Read More

Swayambhunath (Monkey Temple) in Kathmandu, Nepal

Visiting the Swayambhunath Stupa in Kathmandu, Nepal

The Swayambhunath stupa in Kathmandu looks exactly like a pilgrimage destination in Asia should. There is a giant white dome, and below it, the eyes of the Buddha watch over the Kathmandu Valley. Hundreds of small candles are placed around rows and Read More

The Karni Mati Temple in Deshnok, India (©photocoen)

Searching for the White Rat in the Karni Mata Temple, India

Can you imagine walking among thousands of rats without freaking out? I couldn't, but I did, anyway. When I was reading my guidebook it sounded exciting, exotic if you like: visiting a rat temple -- a place where thousands of rats can eat, sleep Read More

Fountains Abbey North Yorkshire

Walking Into the Past at Fountains Abbey, Yorkshire

Visiting Fountains Abbey is like peeling away layers of history. Are we exploring the 12th century Cistercian Abbey that became the wealthiest foundation in Europe, or the monastery that was plundered by Henry VIII, or the ruin that became part of an Read More

A Pilgrim Rings the Bell at the entrance of the Amarnath Cave (©Coen Wubbels)

Joining a Hindu Pilgrimage to the Amarnath Cave in India

The ultimate goal is almost in sight: an ice stalagmite. A holy one, mind you. I flop down on an ice-cold stone and vigorously rub my feet, which have turned blue. They lost all feeling after I climbed stone steps without number in subzero Read More

Butresses at Rosslyn Chapel

Cracking the Da Vinci Code: a Visit to Rosslyn Chapel, Scotland

You surely know all about Rosslyn Chapel: you’ve read The Da Vinci Code and if you haven’t, you must have seen the film. So have I, but for some strange reason I don’t seem able to recall exactly where the chapel comes into it. Not that that’s a Read More

The Potala Palace is the former residence of the Dalai Lamas and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (photo credit: Katherine Rodeghier, c 2012)

Touring the Potala Palace, Former Home of the Dalai Lama in Lhasa, Tibet

As I wait my turn to ascend a ladder inside the Potala Palace, I watch an elderly Tibetan woman ahead of me. Dressed in a long traditional dress, with a loyal son at each elbow helping her rise, she slowly makes her way up, pausing at each rung. Her Read More

Gladstone's Library is both homey and a little bit imposing.

Living the Life of a 19th-Century Scholar at Gladstone’s Library: Hawarden, Wales

Weak spring sunshine streamed through the mullioned windows of Gladstone's Library as I settled into a wing chair with a stack of books. I opened the first, which I'd picked mainly because it was dated 1881 and so might have been owned by the Read More