Pompeii, Italy

Pompeii was once a flourishing as a coastal retreat for wealthy Romans. It contained a bustling marketplace, beautiful homes, taverns, bathhouses, temples of worship, magnificent architecture, an arena (older than the Roman coliseum) that sat 20,000 people, and a flourishing arts and crafts science. Life was good.

That all changed on one horrific day in 79 AD with the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. The eruption blasted a cloud of volcanic ash and poisonous gas 21 miles into air that could be seen from hundreds of miles away as volcanic debris pummeled the towns below. About 12 hours into the eruption, the massive cloud of gas and volcanic ash collapsed resulting in a pyroclastic flow that rolled down the mountain at 400+ mph with temperatures reaching 1000 degrees Fahrenheit. Only five miles from Mount Vesuvius, Pompeii was instantly engulfed in this searing flow and buried under millions of tons of volcanic ash and pumice.

As many as 16,000 people perished that day in the cities and villas around Mount Vesuvius. The number of dead in Pompeii is estimated at 2,000 and several hundred more in the nearby town of Herculaneum. This suggests there may have been a short window to escape. Some of Herculaneum’s citizens were possibly able to escape to Naples before the pyroclastic flow hit. Others were likely killed along the roads beyond the cities while trying to escape.

In terms of preservation, one interesting aspect of this eruption is the apparent lack of fire. The poisonous gases were oxygen free and no oxygen means no fire. Instead of burning, natural materials like wood were carbonized. In Herculaneum there are some relatively well-preserved wooden pieces such as ceiling beams, beds, shelves, and even the famous papyrus scrolls.

Along with Herculaneum, Pompeii serves as a time capsule of Roman life in the first century. While much of Rome’s cultural and architectural grandeur were destroyed as the Roman Empire collapsed, Pompeii remained frozen in time and free from vandalism and looting for 1700 years. In 1748, archeological excavation of Pompeii began and soon revealed the city and life in ancient Rome to the world.

Pompeii was originally developed by the Greeks around 600 BC as a port city. Over time, Greek influence receded and Roman influence rose. By 200 BC Pompeii was part of the Roman Republic. The Roman Republic lasted from 509 BC to 27 BC. By 79 AD, Rome had transformed from a Republic led by Senators to an Empire led by an Emperor. The Romans always thought highly of Greek culture (adopting much of it as their own and adding to it) so transitions from Greek to Roman control were not typically disruptive or oppressive. The influence of Greek culture is evident throughout Pompeii.

In 79 AD the world was only 79 years removed from Jesus walking the earth. His relatively recent presence hadn’t yet registered in Pompeii as Roman and Greek gods were still being worshipped. The Temple of Apollo (image below), built in 129 BC, is one example.

Apollo was a Greek god also worshipped by the Romans. He was the god of light, reason, truth, art, and healing. This temple had 48 columns surrounding the perimeter. As I understand it, these columns would have supported a roof that formed a covered walkway around the courtyard with the temple in the center.

Moving closer to the temple (image below), you can see the remains of stairs once topped with white marble and the remains of what was once an enclosed temple. As you can imagine, there is little indication of any roofing in Pompeii due to the tons of volcanic debris that nearly leveled the city.

Across from the Temple of Apollo is the Basilica of Pompeii built around 120 BC. This was a covered structure with walls and 28 interior columns. In the picture below, we are looking into the Basilica from the Forum. The Basilica was a central building for matters of justice as well as commercial activities and one of the most important buildings in Pompeii.

Below, we are looking at an outer wall of the Basilica. There was another level to this wall that would have extended the height by 50%.

At the end of the Basilica is the elevated tribunal where magistrates would sit. The tribunal gives you a sense of the Basilica’s height that would have extended around building. The bases of columns in the photo below were on the interior of the building and would have extended upward to the second-story ceiling.

Given the administration of justice that occurred in the Basilica, it seems fitting the building would be located next to the Temple of Apollo – god of reason and truth. Leaving the Basilica, you step into the Forum. This was a central area of commerce and political activity in Pompeii.

The Forum was lined with columns, statues, and other buildings of importance. The image below is looking down the western edge of the Forum. There was a second level of shorter columns on top of what we now see and a roof extending to the left that provided a covered walkway around the forum.

At the north end of the Forum sits the Temple of Jupiter. Jupiter was the chief Roman god and held a position similar to Zeus for the Greeks. Jupiter was the god of the sky, thunder, and king of all gods. Symbols associated with Jupiter include the lightening bolt and eagle. This temple has six columns across the front and five down the side. The roof would have extended from a central building out to the front columns to create a covered but open entrance. To the left and right of the temple are triumphal arches. One was dedicated to Augustus, the first emperor or Rome.

Leaving the Forum, I traveled out to the edge of the city to visit the Villa dei Misteri. I had the unique experience of imagining what it would be like to walk through the Pompeii “suburbs”.

Knowing Mount Vesuvius is still active left me with an eerie feeling while walking along the destroyed homes and quiet streets. It erupted in 1700 BC and again in 79 AD with a dormant period of 1800 years between eruptions. Knowing it has been over 1900 years since the last eruption, I had the sense that it could happen at any moment. This feeling was even stronger on the quiet edges of the city.

After a somewhat lengthy walk, I arrive at the Villa dei Misteri. A highlight of this home is that it contains frescoes depicting the secret initiation ritual for women into the worship of Dionysus. Like Apollo, Dionysus was also a Greek god worshipped by the Romans. He was associated with wine, theatre, fertility, and spiritual ecstasy. The Romans often referred to him as Bacchus.

Having run low on time, I make my way back to the rendezvous point for the tour group I had abandoned after arriving at Pompeii. The tour guide was moving way to slow, burned time on rather mundane topics, and wasn’t going to all the places I wanted to see. I could feel precious minutes wasting away so I broke from the group rather quickly. If I were to do it again, I would download one of the apps for Pompeii, get to the city as early in the day as possible, and explore it by myself.

I really enjoy history and loved my visit to Pompeii. If you are visiting cities like Naples, Sorrento, or the Amalfi Coast you will be within striking distance of Pompeii. This is a trip should make. Also, the city of Herculaneum is about 10 miles away and said to be even better preserved than Pompeii. Designing a day that gives allows 4-6 hours in Pompeii and 3 hours in Herculaneum is how I will do it…next time.

Barcelona, Spain – The National Palace

If you are in Barcelona and mapping out one of your days, Montjuic (a large hill/small mountain on the southwestern edge of Barcelona) is a great location to spend a day. You will be able to visit an old castle, the National Palace (shown below), Poble Espanyol, and facilities from the 1996 Summer Olympics.

The view from Montjuic Castle, built in 17th century, offers a sweeping view of Barcelona and the mediterranean. I’ll share of a visual stroll of the Montjuic Castle in the near future. Just having that view is enough to warrant a visit. However, there is a lot more to do on Montjuic.

Poble Espanyol is a village that was built for the 1926 World Fair should be one of your stops during a trip to Montjuic. It captures the spirit and the architecture of the various regions throughout Spain. You can have a mid-day meal and drink here. Another option is to enjoy a flamenco performance over dinner. I shared a visual tour of this area here – Poble Espanyol.

Then, there is the Palau Nacional (National Palace). It was constructed for the 1929 Word Fair and is now the location of the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (National Art Museum of Catalonia). Its façade was inspired by St Peter’s of the Vatican. It has two smaller domes on each side and four towers inspired by the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostella.

During my first visit to the museum (the photos above), I really focused on the National Palace. You can go inside and check out the exhibits and elaborate interior design. You can climb higher and higher to get good looks at the towers and domes which I really enjoyed. You’ll also have some wonderful views of the city from this elevation.

During my second visit to the National Palace, I approached from Plaza de Espana (pictured below) and was greeted by the Venetian towers (second photo below). They frame the entrance to the avenue leading up to the National Palace.

I enjoyed stopping briefly at the National Palace during my second visit to Barcelona but was primarily focused on getting to Poble Espanyol which I didn’t get nearly enough of during my first visit.

I feel like I know Barcelona a bit better now and, looking back, I could have certainly been more efficient during my visits. I’d suggest you set aside a day to focus on the Montjuic area – the castle, National Palace, and Poble Espanyol. If you have more time during that same, the Olympic site (1996 Summer Olympics) is also on Montjuic as well as an old cemetery. You will notice the cemetery on the mountain side of Montjuic as you are traveling from the airport into Barcelona.

How does Montjuic measure up to other options in Barcelona? Before visiting Montjuic, I would prioritize the Gothic Quarter (El Gotic) and the waterfront area on the edge of the Gothic Quarter as my first stop. This really immerses you Barcelona’s rich history and fills you with the city’s vibe. Next, I would make Sagrada de Familia a must-see on your to-do list. Then, if you have more time in Barcelona, head to Montjuic.

Neuschwanstein Castle – Bavaria, Germany

Neuschwanstein Castle is a Romanesque Revival palace built in the late 1800’s by King Ludwing II of Bavaria. It sits high above the village of Hohenschwangau in southwest Bavaria, Germany. If the castle looks vaguely familiar, it is because Neuschwanstein castle was the inspiration behind Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle.

Professional photo taken from mountain across from Neuschwanstein Castle

King Ludwig II intended the palace to serve as a retreat from his palace in Munich and personally paid for its construction rather than using public funds. At least some of the inspiration for the castle’s design is attributed to Richard Wagner – a dear friend of King Ludwig’s. Richard Wagner was a composer and theorist whose operas and music greatly influenced the evolution of music in the western world.

When King Ludwig passed away in 1886, the castle was opened to the public and more than 61 million people have visited. A few of my favorite photos from Neuschwanstein Castle:

Scenic vistas walking up the steep road to Neuschwanstein Castle and the road going up beyond the castle:

Historical Context

The region known today as Bavaria was originally settled by Iron Age Celts. The Roman Empire took control of the region around 100 BC. As the Western Roman Empire collapsed, Bavaria become part of the Kingdom of Germany around 600 AD and later became a sovereign kingdom.

King Ludwig II ascended to the Bavarian throne at age 18 in 1864. Several years later, Bavaria joined the Prussian-led German Empire in the Franco-Prussian (French-German) War of 1870 and, became a German state.

Singapore’s Magnificent Marina Bay

Marina Bay is a must-see location during any first-time visit to Singapore. It is absolutely loaded with many of Singapore’s most well-known landmarks. Originally, this area served as the Port of Singapore during its English colonial period. Today its purpose is geared more towards leisure and aesthetics.

Let’s take a walk around Marina Bay. I’ll point out a few highlights and make a couple suggestions for detours along the way.

My first destination in Singapore was to get to the Marina Bay Sands Hotel – the hotel with what appears to be a ship on top of it. This hotel is a towering sight and visible on the skyline from so many locations throughout the city. Containing 2,300 rooms, a casino, retail stores, rooftop infinity pool, and one of the best views in Singapore, the Marina Bay Sands is certainly worth considering as a place to stay.

The Marina Bay Sands Hotel
From the same point as the previous photo but looking to the right.

The skyline around Marina Bay in the above photo highlights Singapore’s ultra-modern architecture but this is only a small fraction of the skyscrapers in Singapore. The photo below (taken through a restaurant window) shows endless towers on the horizon.

Marina Bay (not visible in photo) is located about 45 degrees to the left of this view.

Back at Marina Bay, there is a pedestrian bridge which I take to get closer to the Sands Hotel.

Helix Bridge
Marina Bay Sands Hotel

At this point, you have several options: go inside the hotel, work your way to the left of the hotel towards Gardens by the Bay, or continue along the shoreline by heading to the right. I headed to the left to visit the gardens.

The Singapore Flyer viewed from the Gardens by the Bay. It is the second tallest ferris/observational wheel in the world.

The Singapore Flyer is a giant ferris/observation wheel located in the Marina Bay area of Singapore. It has 28 air-conditioned capsules with each able to contain 28 passengers. Opened in 2008, it was the world’s tallest ferris wheel until surpassed by the High Roller on the Las Vegas Strip opened in 2014. I imagine the Flyer views are amazing if you have time to check it out.

I continued into the Gardens by the Bay, and you can find that full gallery here which features the “super trees” shown below.

Supertrees in Gardens by the Bay.

After exploring the garden, use the Sands hotel as your exit landmark. I walked through the hotel and returned to Marina Bay waterfront by walking through the Shoppes at Marina Bay. The Shoppes is a multi-level mall with a canal running through it and top retail stores.

The Shoppe’s canal below with Marina Bay visible through the front window.
I’ve circled the bay (heading left once outside the Shoppes) and now looking across the bay at the Shoppes.
Looking back at the water fountain where I took the previous photo.

The historic Fullerton Hotel (below) in its neoclassical glory stands in stark contrast to modern structures surrounding it. The hotel was built in 1928 and has served many purposes in Singapore’s rich history – Post Office, Exchange Room, Reference Library, and home of the prestigious Singapore Club. Today, The Fullerton Hotel Singapore serves as a 400-room heritage hotel in Singapore and is also registered as a national monument.

Fullerton Hotel
The Merlion – Mythological symbol of Singapore
Panoramic shot of Marina Bay

About Singapore

Singapore is an independent city-state. It is a city and the city is the nation. Modern Singapore was launched in 1819 when Sir Stamford Raffles established it as a British trading post. It was occupied by Japan in World War II and then became part of Malaysia. Singapore is now a fully independent economic juggernaut and has the second busiest port in the world. With a population of over 5 million, its health indicators, education levels, and per-capita GDP are among the highest in the world. English, Mandarin Chinese, Malay, and Tamil are spoken in Singapore with English being spoken by most (at least as a second language). Singapore is also one of the most densely populated and most expensive cities in the world to live. And, it is clean…unusually clean.

Additional Singapore galleries:

Barcelona Spain – Poble Espanyol

Barcelona hosted the World’s Fair in 1929. At that time, the World Fair was on par with or perhaps even greater than hosting the Olympics. It was a major international event requiring a significant investment of resources. It was also an opportunity to showcase the host city and nation’s cultural achievements. As a point of reference, the Eiffel Tower was completed in 1889 to serve as the entrance for the World Fair in Paris, France.

When Barcelona was selected to host the 1929 World Fair, several significant projects were initiated to showcase the best of Barcelona. One project was the Palau Nacional (National Palace) which served as the main site for the 1929 World Fair. Another was to revitalize the Gothic Quarter. I will write about and share photos from both these areas in the future.

The National Palace

Poble Espanyol was another significant World Fair project. Planners for Poble Espanyol wanted to create a village that would serve as a synthesis of Spanish architecture, arts, and cultural achievement throughout the various regions of Spain. Project architects visited over 1500 towns and villages taking hundreds of photographs and making notes and drawings in order to plan an authentic town with streets, squares, church, and other sites that captured the spirit of Spain.

During the International Exhibition, between May 1929 and January 1930, Poble Espanyol hosted a long list of cultural and recreational events.

Sangria is a red wine with fruit. Spain reintroduced this nearly forgotten drink to world during the 1929 World Fair.

Poble Espanyol was a huge success during the World Fair so the city decided to keep it intact versus destroying it as originally planned. It is also noted that Poble Espanyol, according to Michael Eisner, former president of Disney, served as the initial inspiration for Disney theme parks. Unfortunately, the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) would nearly destroy the site and certainly destroyed the spirit and momentum from the World Fair.

Poble Espanyol underwent several attempts at revitalization during the remainder of the century with mixed results. It wasn’t until 1996 that the village was once again a flourishing cultural site with year-round events for locals and tourists alike. Here are a few sights from my stroll through Poble Espanyol.

Entrance to Poble Espanyol – small admission fee.
Inside Poble Espanyol looking out to Barcelona.

If you have enough time, Poble Espanyol is definitely worth visiting. However, if you are a first-time visitor to Barcelona, I would suggest your first area to visit should be La Rambla, El Gotic (the Gothic Quarter), and waterfront areas. They are all close to one another and this is the area that will make you fall in love with Barcelona. A trip to Sagrada Familia is also a must.

I’ve been fortunate to visit Barcelona several times and was looking to explore more of the city which lead me to the Montjuic. Beyond Poble Espanyol, Montjuic features a 17th century castle, the National Palace/National Art Museum of Catalonia, and sporting facilities built for 1992 Olympic games.

Torre Calatrava is a communications tower built for the 1992 Olympics and remains as a prominent feature on Montjuic. Designed to represent an athlete holding the Olympic torch.

Rio de Janeiro – Christ the Redeemer

Christ the Redeemer is a massive statue of Jesus Christ standing with welcoming arms on the summit of Mount Corcovado in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It was completed in 1931 and stands at nearly 100 feet tall with an equally wide wingspan. The statue is one of Rio de Janeiro’s most recognizable landmarks and is considered one of the seven man-made wonders of the world.

When Rio hit my travel radar, Christ the Redeemer was destination #1.

First good view on the approach after a lift up the mountain.
The elevation is apparent in this photo looking down on the city.

I had plenty of time to explore the area around Christ the Redeemer and check out the vistas. It was amazing though how quickly the weather turned for the worse. In the image below, you can see the peak of Sugarloaf Mountain which is on a peninsula at the mouth of Guanabara Bay. If you have time and weather allows, Sugarloaf is said to be another key point of interest in Rio with amazing views. Unfortunately, it was time to get off the mountain and the next stop wouldn’t be Sugarloaf.

Brazil was once as a colony of Portugal but has since become an independent nation. Portugal has a similar statue called Christ the King overlooking Lisbon that was inspired by Christ the Redeemer.

Grand Canyon – West Rim

Grand Canyon West Rim is a 2.5 hour drive from Las Vegas. If you are in Las Vegas and have never been to the Grand Canyon, the West Rim is certainly worth the trip. You can also stop at Hoover Dam which you will pass traveling to and from Grand Canyon West. While Grand Canyon West is part of the Grand Canyon, it is not part of the Grand Canyon National Park system. Instead, it is located on the Hualapai Reservation and operated by the Hualapai Tribe. If you are planning a trip specifically to visit the Grand Canyon for several days, the South Rim is the place to go.

I headed out of Vegas around 7 am filled with anticipation and arrived at Grand Canyon West a couple hours later. After paying the park admission fee and taking a short shuttle bus ride, I finally laid eyes on the Grand Canyon.

I couldn’t really grasp what I was seeing…massive, sprawling, and absolutely breathtaking. It was hard to wrap my mind around a place so unlike anything I had ever seen before. The passing of millions upon millions of years was evident before me and etched into the canyon walls. I feel very fortunate to have seen some amazing sights in my life, but this was overwhelming – spiritual.

I was also surprised by the lack of safety features around the view points. There was nothing. My hands are sweating right now thinking about how I could walk right up the edge and one step further would be the end.

I do okay with heights but this danger certainly had my undivided attention.

Yikes!
Taking a photo of someone taking a photo of someone taking a photo.

I had an amazing afternoon at Grand Canyon West. Buying your admission ticket online will save time. There are many tour bus options out of Vegas but a rental car will allow you travel at your own pace. Traveling in a V-8 Dodge Challenger added to the day’s excitement for me.

The park uses shuttle buses to get you from point to point. There are three stops on the route with the second and third stops being Grand Canyon view points. The third stop was my favorite because it had more views and a small peak you could hike up and truly feel on top of the world. The much touted “Skywalk” is at stop #2. There is an additional fee for the Skywalk and you aren’t allowed to take photos. Instead, they have photographers that will take photos of you and sell them to you. Not a big fan of that setup and didn’t participate.

If you are in Las Vegas and want to get out of the city for a day, Grand Canyon West is a great excursion. You will drive right past the Hoover Dam so be sure to stop and check it out as well.

Singapore – Gardens by the Bay

Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay is an expansive project in the Marina Bay area of Singapore. It is an eco-tourist destination showcasing sustainable practices and plants from across the globe and is a must-see attraction in Singapore.

The ever-present Marina Bay Sands hotel is on the edge of Gardens by the Bay.
First glimpse of the “super tree” groove – south of Marina Bay
The garden contains 18 of these “supertrees”
Each is a self-sustaining vertical garden
The skywalk between the trees provides another way to view and enjoy the garden.
Notice the “eggs” floating on Dragonfly lake. At night, they are illuminated along with the trees.
Crossing the Gardens by the Bay (south of Marina Bay)

The Gardens by the Bay covers 103 acres and has themed garden areas honoring the diversity of people found in Singapore – Chinese, Malay, and Indian – and Singapore’s history. It represents a significant step towards transforming Singapore into a “city within a garden.” They are well on their way. This garden and the focus on flora throughout the city is something that will always standout in my memories of Singapore.

Park Royal Hotel is living the “city within a garden” vision.

Porto, Portugal – Walk with Me (Part II)

My first post on Porto, Portugal took us through the vibrant and historic waterfront area of Ribiera. You can find it here: Porto Portugal – Walk with Me (Part I). In part II, we’ll begin our visual stroll north of Ribiera and take in a few sights as we work our way down to the riverfront.

Starting near the Campanha train station. The first landmark is a 19th century church, Igreja Santissima Trinidade.

A block south of the church is the breathtaking plaza called Avenida dos Aliados which is filled with architectural gems lining both sides. Statues, hotels, government building, cafes, retail stores, and restaurants make this a popular area in Porto.

Looking south down Avenida dos Aliados
Looking north at Porto City Hall

At the southern point of Avenida dos Aliados is a monument for King Pedro IV erected in 1866. His story is fascinating as he was in front and center during a period of significant upheaval in Portugal’s history. As the King of Portugal, he was forced to flee Portugal after the French (Napoleonic-era) invasion and conquest of Portugal in 1807. He took up residence in Brazil (Portugal’s wealthiest and most successful colony). He ruled over Brazil and eventually returned to Portugal with an army to regain control of Portugal in the early 1830’s. A lot happened in between his departure and return but that is a story for another day.

Next on my loosely penned itinerary is to locate the Clerigos Tower. Situated on the highest point of historic Porto. I know the view of the city will be one of the best available. I head east from the Avenida dos Aliados and up a steep street to arrive at the Clerigos church. Getting to the top will require a spiraling 250-step ascent but promises a fantastic 360-degree panoramic view of the city. Count me in!

Entering the church, I’m unexpectedly taken back by its splendor and pause for a few photos before getting to the tower.

As I begin my ascent into the tower, I notice the top of a building (image below) that is an actual park. So bizarre to see people laying in the grass surrounded by olive trees…on the roof of a building. This space is known as Jardim das Oliveiras.

Jardim das Oliveiras
Looking out from inside the tower.
Mission accomplished – view from top of the Clerigos Tower

Taking in the city view from the Clerigos tower is incredible. You are able to walk all the way around the top and get a 360 degree view. I was able to identify a few of the landmarks I wanted to see and get a general sense of the city’s layout. After leaving the tower, I know everything is downhill to the river. However, there is a famous bookstore (connected to Harry Potter) to visit first.

The Livaria Lello & Irmao is the bookstore where J.K. Rowling is said to have written parts of Harry Potter and inspired aspects of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts.

Around the corner from the Livaria Lello & Irmao bookstore is a plaza featuring the Fountain of the Lions and Igreja do Carmo. The church was built in the late 1700’s and features azulejos – ornate ceramic tiles – on the exterior. I haven’t mentioned this yet but azulejos are everywhere in Porto (and Portugal in general). Sometimes they are simple patterns covering the exterior of homes and at other times they form grand, detailed mosaics. Azulejo was introduced in the 13th century when the Moors (people from region today known as Morocco) controlled much of Iberian peninsula (what is now Portugal and Spain).

After this fun diversion, I set off down the narrow cobblestone streets of Porto towards the waterfront.

Porto is filled with steep streets. Wear comfortable shoes for walking.
Rio Douro ahead…I made it!

To see photos of Porto’s riverfront, please checkout Porto Portugal – Walk with Me (Part I).