Tucked away in the Andes, stands the most amazing archaeological structure chosen as one of the New 7 Wonders of the Modern World on July 7, 2007. This is the 15th-century Inca citadel located northwest of Cuzco on a mountain ridge 2,430 metres (7970 feet) above sea level. This engineering work of art, balances on this ridge laid out in a series of terraces each one above the other. For over 500 years, the stonework supporting the layout stands with no mortar or cement. The ruins of Machu Picchu reveal the mysteries of the Inca Empire.
Yes evidence of the pressure exerted by the weight of the soil and stone shows that not all were successful. With an average rainfall of 70 inches we can understand why. These terraces built for farming purposes were for the growing of potatoes and corn. Water was needed for growth but it also had to be managed. Too much water and the mountaintop were eroded, too little and the crops failed. Parts of the dwellings are 2 and 3 stories high. It is believed that Machu Picchu was constructed as an estate home for the supreme ruler or emperor Pachacuti 1438-1472. He was the single ruler of the Inca Empire. Addressed as Chief Inca, Son of the Sun or Lover of the Poor, thought to have descended from the Sun. Like the Pharaohs of Egypt he took his sister for his Queen in the belief of true royal blood. The small American Indian people built one of the largest tightly controlled empires the world has ever known. Their skill in Government was matched only by their feats of engineering. Walls, roads and irrigation works constructed by these crafts people are still in use today. To appreciate the Incas achievements it helps to visualize the different terrain of Peru. Some of the world’s driest deserts looking upwards as the land rises to the jagged peaks of the Andes mountain range. The Inca Empire had ruled a population of 12 million people.
With the invasion of the Spanish however in the 1500’s South America was under serious danger of being overthrown. The Spanish first overcame the Aztec Empire in Mexico. Crossing over to the west they discovered the Pacific Ocean in 1513. Sailing down the coast over a number of expeditions they went as far as present day Colombia, later to Ecuador, then to Peru. Having heard of the wealth in Peru the Spanish governor financed Francisco Pizarro to explore it. In 1533 under the guise of an act of friendship the 13th emperor came to dinner with the Spaniard. The Spanish had an army of 180 trained soldiers. The Inca Empire was ordered to take the bible and convert to the new religion, Pizarro refused and the Spanish army attacked leaving thousands of the unarmed Incas dead. The execution of Atahualpa marked the end of 300 years of Inca civilization.
Machu Picchu was never reached by the Spanish conquistadors and lay abandoned to the world until 1911 when an American explorer Hiram Bingham reached there with the help of some local farmers who were struggling to survive generation after generation had seen the end of the glorious Inca Empire.
Athens, its capital is one of the oldest cities in the world. Steeped in history dating back through millennia, named after the Greek goddess of wisdom Athena. Sitting on the coastal area of the Mediterranean with a population of 3.7 million people. Surrounded by thousands of islands, Athens is a powerful centre for arts, culture, learning, philosophy, science, finance and technology.
Home of Plato, Aristotle and Homer. It had an influence on the European continent including Ancient Rome. Have a look at the Byzantine and Ottoman monuments to be seem throughout the city. Walking around the modern city surrounded by mountains and sea there are attractions on all sides. Hiking, kayaking, water skiing, swimming, zip lining. Visiting the National Museums awakens you to feast of history, The Acropolis, ancient monuments and monasteries such as the Daphni are not to be missed. The first modern day Olympic Games were held in Athens in 1894 and again in 2004. Read about how the marathon is so called. Athens is now a UNESCO city of Global learning.
The miracle of Greece. The Great Meteoron Holy Monastery. The Transfiguration of Christ. Meteora: a few kilometres from Kalabaka are the impressive rocks of Meteora, rising from the plains, they are the most amazing sites in Greece. Translated Meteora means “suspended in the air”, these gigantic rocks house the Greek Orthodox Monasteries, that reach heights of 600 meters. These Byzantine monasteries have a priceless collection of artifacts and wall paintings. Monks and nuns are taking care of these world famous buildings and their possessions that are open to the public for visits. Only six remain of the twenty four monasteries that were built here over 500 years ago. What an achievement. To climb up to these buildings today would take over four hours. It’s adored for its architectural features as it is for its religious significance.
Delphi. On the Gulf of Corinth, this town was the seat of the most famous Greek Temple and Oracle of Apollo. Believed by them to be the centre of the world. In Ancient Greek mythology Zeus the God of the Sky and Thunder, was considered the ruler, protector and father of all the Gods and humans. Depicted by symbolism of a lightning bolt and an eagle. Zeus released two eagles, one at the east and one to the west, both flew until they landed at mount Olympus. This was ever after to become the home of the Gods. Homer wrote of their immortality. Zeus is the father of many of them, Hermes, he who carries the dead to Hades. Dionysus best known as the God of winemakers. Ares the Wild one who caused havoc and destruction where he went, Hercules that totem of masculinity and power, we could go on but, of all his sons, the outstanding one of all was Apollo, God of sun, light, music, poetry, agriculture, healing and beauty.
Travelling through Greece and the maze of islands one cannot but be impressed by the beauty and abundance of the different statues erected to all of these Gods down through the ages.
Santorini. Probably one of the most famous islands in the world. Volcanic eruption has left its mark on this island. Where can one watch an underwater crater with a town that has houses clinging to cliffs above it with leftover lava forming the beaches. This island in the Aegean Sea is part of the Cyclades group of islands about 200 kilometres from the mainland of Greece. Voted the most romantic island in the world. “The sunsets will leave you breathless” said one octogenarian when asked why she voted as she had “and believe me that’s saying something, I’ve seen too many”
The Greek philosopher Plato had a theory that the lost island of Atlantis lies off these islands. Many myths have been bandied about when the topic of Atlantis comes up. Plato had this idea that the Gods vexed the Elements of Nature and a massive volcanic eruption sank the island to the bottom of the sea in one gigantic movement overnight. Wallow in the dreamy atmosphere of this out of world experience as you explore this island.
Mykonos. Another one of the Cyclades islands. This one is famous however for its beautiful sandy beaches, its whitewashed houses, chapels and 16th century windmills. Known as the ‘island of the winds’ because of gale force winds that blow through here. The island has two distinctly different features. By day you can see a very cosmopolitan landscape, architectural style streets with lavish restaurants, wonderful shops and stores that offer an array of jewellery, clothing and accessories. At night the city dresses up as if by magic to welcome the visitors to the transformation that entertains the party goers, bars, nightclubs and dusk till dawn entertainment. International DJs travel here for the summer months to be part of this extravaganza.
Nafplion. One of the major tourist destinations of the Argolis region. The architecture and castles are fascinating, dating back to the Italian Venetian era. The beauty of Greece and the islands is what makes the heart miss a beat. The layout of the towns and cities must have been a challenge to anyone in the construction of these dwelling houses, churches, castles or other structures needed for the development of an area. Elevation or gradient never seems to have been an obstacle. Considering the mode of transportation we have to admire their achievements. Greek civilization has been an influential part of modern day studies. A trip to Nafplion gives one the answer to that question ‘why’?
Travelling as a solo traveller may seem daunting but it is very possible to have a wonderful experience and great memories. I went on two trips in the last couple of months with wonderful experiences.
My first was a river cruise to visit the Christmas markets of Austria and southern Germany. Here were my experiences that increased my enjoyment of my trip. Firstly I introduced myself to the river cruise director as a solo traveller. They can be very helpful in helping you decide what tours you want to do and how to have the best experience. I sat for breakfast in the same area most mornings so the staff knew my likes and I had a comfort level to start the day. I also would go to the bar early in the evening so as not to be overwhelmed with walking into a crowded room, and be open to meeting people who arrived later. For dinners I would ask politely the people who I had just met to join them for dinner. I never was refused. I listened carefully and asked where they were from and how they were enjoying their trip. It always opens the conversation. I did sign up for experiences that I knew I would enjoy no matter who was going on those excursions. For instance, I love music and history so I signed up for a classical concert excursion where my shipmates were the only ones attending, and a historical tour in Nuremberg where I got to enter the famous court where the Nuremberg trials were held. I loved each experience even though I didn’t do it with someone else. I did have the comfort of fellow shipmates so I didn’t feel lonely. Do what you want to enjoy and take from it your personal enjoyment of that experience.
My second trip was to the island of Grenada where I stayed at an all inclusive resort for the first time. I upgraded my room to the side that had butler service and exclusive use of a pool and beach area. I was lucky to go down to the beach on the first day and sit with people who asked me to join them for dinner. Be open to new people. I signed up early for an around the island tour and got to know more people from the resort since it was an all day trip. For me , I liked the extra security and attention from the upgrade. Dinner reservations were made and someone was checking up on me on a daily basis. I believe it was worth the extra money. You may have one or two lonely moments but I had books to delve into and time to refresh my mind, body and soul.
Travelling as a solo may seem daunting however, I have loved each moment and experience and if you are a solo traveller, you can too!
Silent and tranquil now, lie the beaches of Normandy,
The spirits and ghosts gaze down on us from afar.
The countless white crosses in mute witness stand
We need to be here, to walk in silence
That the sacrifices by the few, for so many, were not in vain.
The Normandy beaches of Omaha, Utah, Sword, Juno and Gold are now etched into the pages of history. The average age of those soldiers on that mission was 26 years. Flying was in its infancy really. Some of the soldiers had probably never been on an airplane flight before, never mind jumping out of one.
On the D-Day landings journalists and broadcasters were writing reports for radios and newspapers. Yesteryears news is todays history, that we have to learn from. The historical fields and cemeteries that we walk upon and meditate for relatives or friends, and more especially for the forgotten souls that have no one to remember them.
The Normandy landings was the turning point of WW II, but in the broader sense of the war itself, it is but a particle of the enormous canvas that depicts this tragic event that we struggle to wrap our hearts around and understand. To have the opportunity to stand where so many of our countrymen and women found their last resting place is gratifying.
History can be recorded in many ways. The city of Bayeux in Normandy was one of the earliest to be liberated by the Allies in June 1944. A city renowned for its Tapestry. Looking at these works, history is painstakingly engraved with tread. Cast your mind back to William the Conqueror and the Battle of Hastings, he was the Duke of Normandy who changed the history of England. Follow his story on these tapestries.
Bayeux is a city of culture and grandeur, it is now recognized as a world UNESCO heritage city.
Don’t forget to sample the famous cheese and dairy products from this region.
As we travel on the Rhone river we can also see the influence that the Roman Empire had with the Amphitheater in Arles, we are reminded of impressionist painters like Claude Monet, Galleries and museums, Cathedrals and Churches. Religion and Catholicism were the cornerstone of France, towns and cities are dotted with ruins of Abbeys, Churches and Monasteries. Avignon, Le Palais des Papes, the Palace of the Popes, Pope Clement V moved the Papal capital here in 1348. It’s still papal property. As the Norman invaders went through England, Wales and Ireland they brought with them religious orders such as the Franciscan, Cistercians, Augustinians, Benedictines etc. The Reformation had not happened yet so all believers were Catholics.
Paris, France the architectural beauty Queen of Europe. Influenced by a succession of Kings Louis XIV, Louis XV, and XVI. The latter was married to Marie Antoinette and both were condemned to the Guillotine in 1791, after the French Revolution. Louis XVI in January and Marie Antoinette in October.
The Eiffel Tower or ‘La Tour Eiffel’ one of the most iconic sites in Paris, Champs-Élysées (main avenue), Arc de Triomphe, and The Louvre. For the romantics travelling, spend some time strolling the Rue Saint-Dominique for chic elegance, traditional culture of restaurants with French cuisine. If it’s shopping you want go no further.
Some Pre or Post nights in Paris could turn a luxurious trip into paradise. Further Afield Travel and Tours can assist you in organizing your activities.
The Balkan Peninsula is the area that incorporates the countries surrounded by the Balkan mountains and ruled throughout the ages by a variety of Empires. From the first century when the Roman Empire was in control it was a time that the Balkan people were most united in their history, with a common legal system, a single arbiter of political power, and absolute military security.
The Fall of the Roman Empire in the 4th century after the attack by the Barbarians from Northern Europe saw the Byzantine empire rulers take over from 330-1450 The capital was Constantinople, with a few interruptions every now and then. Namely during the Crusades of the 12th & 13th centuries, Catholicism was the official religion of the Holy Roman Empire, that developed in Europe during the Middle Ages and lasted until 1806 during the period of the Napoleonic Wars. The Pope in Rome, Urban II calls on all Christians in Europe to war against Muslims in order to reclaim the Holy Land.
The Slavs were settlers that came to the Balkans in the 6th century, a peaceful farming community that over a century became a powerful factor. They separated into four groups, Slovenes, Croats, Serbs and Bulgarians, Constantinople (Istanbul) was where the Palace of the Emperor was. Rome and Constantinople separated irrevocably in 1054. The Croats and Slovenes became part of Roman Catholic Europe while the Serbs, Bulgarians and Romanians joined the Greeks in their allegiance to Eastern Orthodox Church. The Crusades had two profound effects upon the Balkans, a hatred of the Eastern Orthodox Church against the Westerners and Catholics. The second was the weakening of the Empire. The Ottoman Empire came to prominence in 1350-1922.
Cruising on The Danube.
The above gives a brief outline of the Balkans. The Danube River one of the longest rivers in Europe at 2800 km. The Danube is connected to the North Sea through the Rhine and Main rivers and then through the Danube Canal. Flowing through 10 countries it empties into the Black Sea.
Sailing from Budapest the capital of Hungary there’s a myriad of wonders to behold. The Paris of the East as it’s fondly referred to. The Carpathian Mountains act as a backdrop to the city. The Danube dissects the city of Budapest which is the amalgamation of what was once three cities, Buda, Obuda and Pest. For the purposes of administration and education, politicians and economists reached this agreement. A tour of the city will show evidence of Stone and Bronze Age settlements. The Architecture and sheer beauty of the city is to be envied. The focal point being the river one can visit Buda castle the residence of former Hungarian Kings, that now houses the National Gallery and Museum. See the Citadel and the Fisherman’s Bastion overlooking the city and the river, and visit St Stephen’s Basilica. Walk on the Chain bridge, intact after 150 years. For food enjoy the wonderful restaurants and eateries that are to be found on every street. The treat for today is a visit to Count Vlad III (Vlad the Impaler), Count Dracula’s grave.
Hungary was a monarchy until the deposition of the last king, Charles IV in 1918, after which it became a Republic. The Kingdom was nominally restored during the ‘Regency’ 1920-1946, ending with the Soviet occupation in 1946 after the Paris Peace Treaty. The country has a checkered history with various rulers in power. WW I Hungary had one third of its territory annexed by the Treaty of Versailles. WW II had the Soviet Union take control to become the Hungarian People’s Republic in 1949. Agreements with Allies had Hungary now part of the Warsaw Pact.
As in many countries throughout the world we see that students and others of an educated background have led many a revolt. Look at South Africa. Budapest is no different and in 1956 a revolutionary group wanted change. The Soviet Army dealt harshly and quickly with those involved. Lives were lost and many Hungarians fled the country. The USSR was coming under severe pressure towards the end of the 1980s. In 1989 the Berlin Wall was torn down, many East Germans took refugee status in Hungary. On the 50th anniversary of the 1956 revolution many countries worldwide remembered Hungary’s efforts to quell the Communist expansion. In 2006 the then president George W Bush of the US paid a visit to Hungary to commemorate the event.
Sailing out of Budapest one can only imagine the merchants, people and cargo that have been transported in all directions on these waterways.
Vessels navigating the river go through the ‘Iron Gates Lock’ a gorge forged by the Danube through the Carpathian Mountains. Stopping at Pecs to browse the town, glass, porcelain, and china are the delights of the visitor. The Danube sneaks its way through Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania.
Into Bucharest the capital of Romania, once part of the Roman Empire. The Greek empires ruled through the middle of the First millennium, Europeans trading to Asia and the Far East were settling here. The Romanians were recognized as a noble race of people and brave in warfare or in the face of adversity. The Ottoman Turks expanded their empire into the Balkan states. Through the Middle Ages the Ottomans attacked Kosovo, Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary. War continued as the Mongolian armies came through. Geographic and historical places that are referenced to such as Transylvania, the Habsburg Empire to the West, the Russian Empire to the East and others that have been mentioned have a birth, rebirth and annihilation traced to these locations.
Geographically Romania has a land mass of about 240,000 square Km, approximately one third mountainous, one third forests and the rest is rich in mineral wealth and farmland. With a population of 22 million. It’s a religious country with 80% Romanian Orthodox Christians, Protestant, Catholic, Islam, Judaism and others.
WW II and Romania. With the outbreak of the War, Romania took a neutrality stand, but Fascist forces were coming to power urging an alliance with Germany. The Soviet Union had claims on Romania and some other Balkan states after ‘The Versailles Treaty’ in 1919. The Soviet onslaught on Germany-Romanian fronts and a coup d’état in Romania put the country on the side of the Allies in 1944. When WW II ended in 1945 there was a Soviet military presence there until 1958. Journeying on the Danube at low water levels it’s possible to see hulks of warships that were scuttled along the Danube by Nazi German forces retreating from the advancing Soviet troops.
The Communist Party ruled supreme in Romania. in 1965 Nicolae Ceausescu became the general secretary and president in 1967. He maintained independence from Moscow and established the most totalitarian European Communist state. The economic policies that were adopted proved disastrous for the country, world recession in the 70/80s brought enormous inflation and higher interest rates. Money borrowed from the IMF bankrupted the Romania economy. Ceausescu was re-elected after each five year term, the country was in financial ruin.
In 1985 Mikhail Gorbachev became president of the Soviet Union after an upheaval within Russia. Many member states of the Soviet States were in serious decline, Gorbachev’s efforts to democratize the political system and decentralize its economy led to the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. Gorbachev was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize that same year, being classed as an outstanding world leader, mainly for confining the Red Army to barracks as the Berlin Wall war was torn down.
Ceausescu didn’t think so, having expected more from what he believed to be at one time the father of Communism. He brought his troops and tanks onto the streets and hundreds died. On the 21st December 1989 as he went to address a rally in Bucharest holding up pictures of himself and his wife Elena, the unthinkable happened for him. People jeered and shouted in protest, soldiers stood idly by. He and Elena fled the gathering. In a short time he was arrested and held in custody for a speedy trial.
Today Romania has a high-income economy with a skilled workforce. A member of the European Union and ranked 13th by the nominal GDP. The country’s growth is outstanding.
Looking back at the history of Romania over the past three decades, a presidential republic with a prime-minister as the head of government, as a nation it’s a tremendous success. Starting from a low platform its development has awakened many a country. Immigration and migration has given Romanians the opportunity to travel, for education, work, student exchange programs, with labourers and skilled workers coming to fill vacancies that have arisen from foreign investors who see a well educated workforce there already.
Tourism has offered a visitor destination venue that’s comparable to many worldwide. While in Bucharest visit the Palace of the Parliament, the National Museum, Dracula’s Castle, the Castle where the Adams Family was filmed, take the Real Tour of Communism in Bucharest, the Story of the Cold War Museum, Revolution Square. Stroll the broad tree lined Boulevards and visit the pubs, restaurants or pick up something to nibble as you enjoy the pure beauty of Eastern Europe.