Sunday Special – The Pantheon, Rome


I decided to round out letter “P” with an ancient landmark in the Eternal City – Rome’s Pantheon. This remarkable building has some interesting details, as one may expect from the best-preserved ancient Roman building within Rome. The current building was completed around 125 CE, during Emperor Hadrian’s reign. Two previous incarnations of the building existed prior, at the very same site. The first one was commissioned by Marcus Agrippa in 25 – 27 BCE yet burnt down in 80 CE.  It was rebuilt during the time of Domitian, was struck by lightning in 110 CE and subsequently burnt down as well. Initially built as a pagan temple it has been used as a Christian church since 608 CE (Saint Mary and the Martyrs). Having been in continuous use since it was built has aided in its ongoing survival.

One of the most striking features of the Pantheon is its incredible dome. It is the largest unsupported dome in the world. A large circular hole or oculus marks the top which is its primary source of natural light. A unique feature of this oculus is that only on a equinox (April 21) during noon does the light enter at such an angle that it hits a metal grille thus bathing the courtyard with light. Another aspect of dome is that the distance from the floor to its top is equal to the dome’s diameter. 

The Pantheon is open to visitors most everyday (closed on several holidays) and there is no fee to visit. Guided tours do have a fee involved. Tours or visits to walk around are not allowed during mass. Although I have walked past and admired the outside of the Pantheon many years ago I regret that I did not go inside. In my defense I was merely 21 years old and did not know much about it. I guess I will have to return to Rome soon.

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The Pantheon interior and oculus – Photo credit: Tomi Mäkitalo, Pantheon – panoramio (15)CC BY-SA 3.0

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Rome’s Pantheon at night – Photo credit: o2maRoma-pantheonnotteCC BY-SA 2.0

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Sunday Special – Joya de Cerén Archaeological Park, El Salvador


The Central American country of El Salvador is home to a significant archaeological site that some call ‘the Pompeii of the Americas’. Joya de Cerén was a pre-Hispanic farming village of approximately 200 people that had been buried under volcanic ash since the 600s C.E. It was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993 though it was discovered in 1976 during a government agricultural project, quite by accident. When the volcano named Loma Caldera erupted around 590 CE the villagers of this Mayan village escaped (no bodies have been located there) yet the town was left as is under blankets of ash. Homes and the wares inside were intact as well as various vegetation of the time.  It is believed that an earthquake prior to the eruption was what prompted the small amount of villagers to flee and therefore avoiding the flow of lava and blackened smoke pouring out of Loma Caldera.  Because of the ash covering the village it was preserved remarkably well allowing archaeologists to learn and understand about Mesoamerican life during that era. 

Located 36 km / 22 miles outside of the capital city  of  San Salvador, Joya de Cerén offers visitors a glimpse of how the life of these humble farmers was before nature drove them from their homes. Tours of the site and the 10 exposed buildings are available. Well preserved housewares such as furniture, clay pots, kitchen items, and food storage are showcased in the park’s modest museum.  This area would certainly be of interest to history buffs  along with El Salvador’s other archaeological sites. It would be like stepping back in time.  Imagine that.

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Preserved structure at Joya de Cerén Archaeological Park – Photo credit: Mariordo (Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz), ES Estructura 1 Area 1 Joya Ceren 05 2012 1513, CC BY-SA 3.0

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Housewares at Joya de Cerén Museum, El Salvador – Photo credit: Mariordo (Mario Roberto Durán Ortiz), ES Joya Ceren Museum 05 2012 1519, CC BY-SA 3.0

 

 

Sunday Special – Estonia


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Cliffs at Saaremaa Island, Estonia – Photo credit: Margus6Varahommik ja Panga pankCC BY-SA 3.0

This small Baltic country of Estonia has history that goes back for centuries and centuries with a Finno-Ugric language ancestry.  Throughout these times the Estonian’s faced German, Danish, Swedish and Russian control. In 1918 they became an independent nation but were forced into the Soviet Union in 1940. 1989 they demanded independence and gained it officially in 1991, with much credit going to their peaceful Singing Revolution of the 1980s. In 2004 they joined the European Union and switched to the euro in 2011. Today it is a tourism hot spot with plenty to offer. 

  • Capital city of Tallinn boasts an outstanding Old Town which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Sight
  • Experience “White Nights” from May through July when the sun barely sets
  • Take in the Suur and Väike Taevaskoda (Small and Large Heaven’s Hall) along the Ahja River for some hiking and seeing some caves
  • The Lahemaa National Park on the northern coast is filled with beautiful landscape and perhaps you will see moose, foxes and other animals
  • The south’s Soomaa National Park showcases a primeval forest and quiet nature
  • Get your adrenaline flowing with activities such as repelling, rafting, ATV rentals, go-karting and even a precarious walk along the ledge of Tallinn’s TV Tower 
  • Visit any of Estonia’s plentiful islands, many just a quick ferry ride away
  • Take in all forms of popular music at any number of clubs offering rock, jazz, alternative, electronic and more. Music festivals are popular as well.
  • Admire the architecture of old in the many lighthouses, manor houses, churches, castles, and forts throughout the country
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Katariina Passage in Tallinn’s Old Town – Photo credit: -jkb-Tallinn Katariina KäikCC BY-SA 3.0

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Panorama of Tallinn’s walled Old Town – Photo credit: Ivar LeidusTallinn Toompea Upper Old Town 2013CC BY-SA 3.0 EE

Monday Sessions – Cuba


Our next installment of the Mondays Sessions is to Cuba. This Caribbean Island nation has had a storied past.  Many travelers from Europe and especially Canada have been visiting for years at the numerous resorts found around the island and particularly in Varadero.  There have been some changes in recent years in regards to travel within Cuba. Other areas have become a bit more popular with visitors, which offers a chance to see the more authentic side of this country. My friend Aurora (a French expat in Canada), whom I met last year, visited the tropical locale earlier in 2017.  Let’s hear about her time in Cuba.


WTW:  What may you decide to go to Cuba?

Aurora:  I have been dancing Cuban Salsa for about 10 years now and I always wanted to go! I figured it was best to go as soon as possible to experience the “authentic Cuba” before it changes with the tourism boom.

WTW:  Wonderful! Regarding logistics, how did you get around? What type of accommodations did you stay in?

Aurora:  We wanted to rent a car but there was no availability, so we ended up using buses and private shared taxis to get around the island, the latest ended up being the easiest for only a little bit more than the bus. For accommodation we stayed in Casa Particulares, which are the local B&Bs – it’s the best option if you want to see how locals live and meet them!

WTW:  How was the food? And the rum? (I find the rum quite tasty)

Aurora:  The selection of dishes was limited. Surprisingly, we found that the quality of the food varies a lot even for similar price ranges. The cocktails were also amazing in some places or genuinely bad in others!

WTW:  Good to know that is varies. Which place or area was your favourite and why?

Aurora:  Havana was my favorite place because of its authenticity and eclecticism. The older part of the city is run-down, but I personally found it charming, you get to imagine the colonial times more vividly.

WTW:  I myself  like Havana too. What surprised you the most about Cuba?

Aurora:  It felt like going back in time, nothing has changed much in 50 years, and you feel the socialism spirit everywhere, it was like experiencing history! Also the double currency system is quite surprising, creating a segregation between tourists and locals.

WTW:   That is quite different. What type of activities and sights did you do and see?

Aurora:

  • Havana (visiting the old city, dancing salsa, listening to live bands)
  • Viñales (scenic walks and drives, horse back-riding, cigar plantations)
  • Playa Girón (snorkelling, history)
  • Cienfuegos (touring the city)
  • Trinidad (sightseeing)
  • Santa Clara (Che Memorial )
  • Varadero (white sand beaches)

WTW:  You covered a fair bit of ground! Wonderful. Any tips or suggestions for travelers considering Cuba?

Aurora:  Try to visit beyond the typical tourist destinations for the true Cuban experience. Go visit Centro Havana, get yourself some Cuban pesos, dance salsa with Cubans, and be careful of scams (tourism brings so much money that a lot of people seize any opportunities).

Photos are taken and owned by Aurora and used with permission.