Monday, June 28, 2010

Study Abroad Trip: Part 4 - Turkey

Day 9: Turkey

Turkey, to my surprise, was a lush, well cultured, rich and beautiful country that I would have never imagined I would be so taken by everything they had to offer. I was so fascinated and felt a very deep connection to the areas we visited, I made a mental note that this is a place I would want to visit and spend at least 2 weeks exploring the place.

We first visited the ancient Ephesus area. Most notably known for the Library of Celcus, the entire ancient city, in ruins today, spreads over a very large area. I would say, this city must have been one of the leading modern cities of its time; it had an amphitheater, hospital, advanced and complex waste water & portable water system, it had public bath houses, public toilet systems, it had a LIBRARY !!!, market place and of course housing.




Ephesus, Turkey - Images (c) Manori Sumanasinghe 2010

If visiting the ruins weren't enough, we had the opportunity to enjoy the local culture and hospitality a bit. One of the things I will not forget about Turkey was how nice all locals were. They are extremely friendly and courteous.

Then we made our way to Church of St. John the Apostle. It is quite amazing how after all these years since his time, a church with the final resting place of St. John the apostle is still intact.


St. John's ChImages (c) Manori Sumanasinghe 2010

We had an opportunity to visit a Carpet Weaving school of Turkey Ministry of Education. It was a beautiful experience. If you want to buy a Genuine Turkish Carpet, we heard this is one of the cheapest places you can find one.



Carpet Weaving School, Turkey - Images (c) Manori Sumanasinghe 2010

I have always admired the beautiful hand-woven rugs but never had the desire to make one mine. After visiting this place, I now can't wait till the day I can own a hand woven Turkish rug.

We then went to visit house of Mary, the place where Mary - mother of Jesus, spent her last days. A small charming chapel does not have a burial chamber for this is not her last resting place but they still have sermons for the tourists and the Christian Minority to take part in. I have never sat through an entire mass service and a sermon before and I had the privilege to do so here. Though I am not a Christian or Catholic, I appreciated the experiences.

House of Mary - Image (c) Manori Sumanasinghe 2010

I hope I get to visit Turkey in the near future and spend more time there.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Study Abroad Trip: Part 3 - Greece: Athens & Rhodes



Day 7: Athens, Greece

We weren't certain if we would actually get to visit Athens. It was only the day before our scheduled arrival, Greece had massive strikes and violence in Athens due to the failing economy. The port workers were also on strike so even if the cruise line said everything would be resolved by the time we were scheduled to arrive there, I was still skeptical. But thankfully, I was wrong and the strike ended at 6am and we birth the port at 9am.

Athens is a very interesting city. One of the oldest cities in the world, due to population growth and urbanization, the city has been pushed to its limits. For a European city its quite dirty but, then again it is one of the oldest mega cities in the world.

But it is still worth visiting Athens because there are only handful of places that can beat that experience.




The Acropolis: Athens, Greece - Images (c) Manori Sumanasinghe 2010

Athens is one of those places everyone should try to visit at least once in their lifetime.

Panoramic Athens - Image (c) Manori Sumanasinghe 2010

The other highlight of Athens was visiting the New Acropolis Museum. Photographs of inside of the museum were not allowed so I don't have any images to share with you. But this amazing structure by Bernard Tschumi is one of the most elegant, thought provoking architectural masterpieces I have visited this life.

It is pretty cool how the structure is build on an actual architectural dig, without destroying or blocking the site. You can still see the excavations happening below the museum. And through the glass floors of each floor, as you browse through the exhibits, you can observe the excavation from different angles.

The New Acropolis Museum - Image (c) Manori Sumanasinghe 2010

The Entrance to the New Acropolis Museum - Image (c) Manori Sumanasinghe 2010

The archeological dig underneath the New Acropolis Museum - Image (c) Manori Sumanasinghe 2010

The New Acropolis Museum - Image (c) Manori Sumanasinghe 2010

Day 8: Rhodes, Greece

This charming Greek Island played an important role in the ancient Greece. Rhodes, famous for Colossus of Rhodes has two main things one must explore. The old city, which is the city built in the ancient Greek days with the acropolis of Rhodes and the new city or the medieval city built by the Knights Templar.

The old city / The Acropolis of Rhodes - Image (c) Manori Sumanasinghe 2010

The Medieval City, Rhodes, Greece - Image (c) Manori Sumanasinghe 2010

Both days, I wish I had more time to see and to explore the cities and enjoy the beauty and the craftsmanship of these ancient creations.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Study Abroad trip : Part 2 - Naples: Pompeii & Mt. Vesuvius


Day 5:

After a day of relaxing on the ship, we arrived at Naples. Our first destination was Mt. Vesuvius. After quite a drive, we arrived at the vicinity of the mountain. Our tour guide provided by the Cruise liner, a native to the region informed us about the local culture, history of Mt. Vesuvius and about the current political, economical and environmental status of the region.

Mt. Vesuvius probably is one of the most famous volcanoes of our history, everyone knows about the massive eruption that buried Pompeii in 79 AD. It was not difficult to notice how the local flora & fauna changed as we approached the volcano.

Travel tip: An advantage of going on the cruise was that the entrance fee to the places we were going were already included (except for in Egypt) and we didn't have to wait in line to get the tickets

Climbing a volcano has been in my bucket list for the longest time and I was more than pleased I got to do it. It was one of the biggest highlights of my trip. It certainly did help that I was working out prior to the trip because climbing a volcano was no easy task. The first 5 minutes into the hike uphill, I nearly gave up. I was tired and my legs nearly gave up. Then I realized, the body takes a bit time to adjust to the high altitude, plus, here I am in front of a volcano and I have been wanting to do this for a long time, so buckle up Manori. I also realized, this is about as close I could get to intense and pure geo-energy so absorb all I can. All my buddies had already passed me but I stopped. I took a few deep breaths and started absorbing the energy through my feet. In less than 5 minutes I was feeling very energized, I felt like I was energizer bunny :). So I started climbing the mountain again, this time at a steady pace - not too fast and not too slow.

Climbing up Mt Vesuvius, Italy - Image (c) Manori Sumanasinghe 2010

When we started climbing, it was quite warm. But when we were close to the summit, it cooled down rapidly. You could see the surrounding towns in the horizon and fast approaching clouds seem lower than where we were. It was breath taking.


A view from Mt Vesuvius, Italy - Image (c) Manori Sumanasinghe 2010

We reached the summit and it was the coolest thing ever! The crater was deep but the very bottom of it could be seen from the fenced mouth of the crater. Around the rim, there was steamy smoke coming out in some places. There weren't any vegetation growth inside of the crater. You can walk almost all around the crater and enjoy the view from many angles.
The crate & smoky rim - Mt Vesuvius, Italy - Images (c) Manori Sumanasinghe 2010

At the very top, you can find a small souvenir shop. I bought a small sculpture of a ladybird or a lady bug as Americans call it, carved out of volcanic rock to remember being there - not that I would forget the experience anytime soon.

Me at the Souvenir shop, altitude 1167 mtrs - Mt Vesuvius, Italy - Image (c) Manori Sumanasinghe 2010

While we were enjoying the summit, the clouds rolled in covering the entire area in a foggy blanket. We could hardly see 50 ft ahead of us. It got chilly and We had to soon start our descend.

Travel tip: Don't spend a lot at the souvenir shop on top of Mt. Vesuvius. You can buy the same stuff for much cheaper in Pompeii.
We made our way back to the guided tour bus and started heading towards Pompeii. Our tour guide, the sweetest lady ever, first took us to a small tourist shopping area. In these shops, we found many wonderful things. I have a habit of buying souvenir magnets from places I go to and put them on our fridge. I learnt it from my sister-in-law. Among the many wonderful stuff we came across were the many curious sculptures of erected male genitalia. Inquiring after this (because it was extremely funny) we found there was a famous temple of fertility in ancient Pompeii and a male penis was the symbol of the fertility god.. how curious !!!

Travel tip: Bargain with the shop owners. They usually tell a very high price if they know you are American. Have lots of change so you can give exact change amount for the price you bargained.
At the entrance to the ancient city of Pompeii, we were all given our entrance tickets and a map by our tour guide. One thing you will notice as you enter this place is the number of stray dogs roaming about. According to our guide, the legend says that these dogs were souls of those who were victims of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD.

Highlights of Pompeii:
There is the school of gladiators, Gladiators houses, the paved roads, The amphitheater, Ancient "restaurants", Water fountains, the brothel, the houses the temples & the museum with the petrified people. Remarkable amount of structures are in extremely good condition, preserved as they were buried under layers of volcanic ash, pumice and lava. (Difference between lava & magma read this article) The city was completely destroyed in 79 AD, forgotten for around 1600 years and rediscovered during late 16th century.

Ancient Pompeii, Italy - Images (c) Manori Sumanasinghe 2010

The architecture is amazing, the site is beautiful. Some of the paintings and tile work are still well preserved. Pompeii is a place that is worth visiting at least once in a life time....


Monday, June 14, 2010

Study Abroad trip : Part 1 - Rome



Day 1:

We arrived in Rome on the 15th of May. It was around 10 am and it was rainy and cold, the latter was quite unusual for May in Rome I hear. Tired from a long journey across the Atlantic, 18 of us huddled into the bus that was provided by Royal Caribbean. A friendly guide greeted us and informed us about the agenda and we made our way to the hotel where we stayed for the next 3 nights.

Then we made our first mistake. Instead of resting and grabbing bite, anxious to see the city, we set off to the train station soon after we checked into the hotel. Later we realized we should have just rested that day so that all of us could have enjoyed Rome in a more calm and relaxed manner.

Travel tip # 1: No matter how anxious you are to see the city, have a proper meal, take a shower and at least a short nap before you venture out into the city so that you won't be tired for days to follow. Jet lag won't go away just because you want it to...!!

Travel tip # 2: Buy a Roma pass. This is good for 3 days unlimited travel in the Rome Metro AND you get entrance to 2 or 3 monuments for free. We went to the Colosseum and the Forum with the free pass.

In the rain, we took the train and then walked to the Vatican - St. Peters' square. It was packed, there were long lines and it was cold. Realizing we should visit the Vatican on a sunny day, and arrive there early in the morning, we took off by foot to see the Pantheon.

Rainy day at the St. Peter's square, Vatican - Image by Manori Sumanasinghe (c) 2010

Travel Tip # 3: It maybe the summer but make sure to take at least one thick sweeter and buy yourself a nice umbrella if it looks like it is going to rain. And take a pair of comfortable, water-proof shoes. You are going to walking a lot and you don't want to be cold.

On our way to the Pantheon, we stopped at Piazza Navona briefly. Made a mental note that we should visit here again, should time permit, to see the full glory on a sunnier day.

Fountain at Piazza Navona - Image by Manori Sumanasinghe (c) 2010

Then we headed on to the mighty Pantheon. Just as magnificent as we all have heard, it is an amazing, huge structure. Large columns, and thick walls towering above all the other structures near by, it was truly an amazing site. I had first heard about the Pantheon in history lessons years ago, it instantly went in to my bucket list and I was so glad I was standing right there, on this rainy-gloomy-cold-day, looking at this amazing building constructed over 2000 years ago. We couldn't go in just yet because of the mass that was taking place inside.

The Pantheon was initially built as a temple for all gods by Marcus Agrippa and then was rebuilt by Emperor Hadrian during 126 AD. In the early 7th century, it was gifted to the pope who converted it to a Catholic Church as you will witness it today.

The Pantheon - Image by Manori Sumanasinghe (c) 2010

Our instructor, Prof. Mario Ortega from Miami-Dade college who organized this study abroad trip, noted how on a sunny day one could see the 20ft Oculus at the center of the dome-shaped roof lights up the entire interior of the Pantheon and how we should probably come by here again when the weather conditions have improved.

Then we made our way to the Trevi fountain. Again, like many sculptures and art pieces you find in Rome, this took my breath away. Much larger than I had pictured and more beautiful and detail oriented than I could have ever imagined, the Trevi fountain is a true work of art that I didn't want to leave there.


The Trevi Fountain - Images by Manori Sumanasinghe (c) 2010

Day 2

We started the day by visiting the famous Colosseum. If you use the Roma pass, you don't have to wait in a long line for hours to get in. No words can explain how amazing it is to be inside there. To realize you are standing on a structure that was built over 2,000 years ago and to imagine how it was built without the aid of modern technology we take for grated ,can make the hair stand at the back of your neck. I don't approve of how they used the place for brutal means of entertainment but it is an amazing theater.

Romans are known for their Arches. Here at the Colosseum, you can see arches are used to add aesthetic beauty and structural stability.

Massive Arches at the Colosseum - Image by Manori Sumanasinghe (c) 2010

The baring walls are wide closer to the foundation of the Colosseum, you will feel how minuscule a person is, comparatively.

Wide Baring Walls of the Colosseum - Image by Manori Sumanasinghe (c) 2010

There is a permanent exhibit at the Colosseum and that is not to be missed as well.

The Gladiator Exhibit, The Colosseum - Image by Manori Sumanasinghe (c) 2010

40,000 - 50,000 spectators were said to have filled the Colosseum during operational times in the Roman Empire.
Panoramic interior of the Colosseum - Image by Manori Sumanasinghe (c) 2010


The Colosseum - Image by Manori Sumanasinghe (c) 2010

Then we headed towards the Roman Forum.

The Roman forum, during the golden days of the Roman empire, housed the senate and the most important civic buildings. At this site, there are ruins of hundreds of ancient buildings. This is, by far, my favorite place in Rome. I was enchanted with the Forum. A strong sense of "this is where democracy, as we know it, shaped" took over me. There is a feeling of a deep connection that I still can't shake off - a month after I have been there. I am still, truly amazed.

The Roman Forum - Images by Manori Sumanasinghe (c) 2010


On our way back, we stopped by at the Vittorio Emanuel memorial and as I got the opportunity to visit there again later in the trip, i will write about that later.

Day 3

We took of early in the morning to the Vatican. It was a bright sunny day with mild temperatures and it was perfect. The line to enter the Vatican is long but it moves fast and entrance is free. However, you can only go inside the St. Peter's Basilica and you have to wait on another line to enter the Vatican museum and the Sistine Chapel. Entrance to the Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museum is not free and the lines to enter is miles long.

Travel tip # 4: For about 5 - 10 Euros more (around 35 Euros total) , you can join a guided tour and you get priority entrance to all 3 places. You can stay with the tour guide if you prefer but from our experience, they talk a lot and don't spend enough time looking at the art and architecture. So we took off on our own sometime into the tour once inside the museum.

St. Peter's Square & a scaled model of the Vatican - Images by Manori Sumanasinghe (c) 2010

Do stop and take time to see the art and architecture. Some of the world's best art pieces were acquired (not always very ethically) by the Vatican and are preserved there. The architecture of the building itself should not be ignored.

Some of the Art & Architecture at the Vatican Museum - Images by Manori Sumanasinghe (c) 2010

There is so much art & architecture at this museum than I could have possibly documented and than I could post here. But do not miss the opportunity if you ever go there, take time and walk through, just allow yourself to be surrounded by some of the best artworks on earth.

The museum lead us to the Sistine Chapel. Inside the Sistine Chapel, photography is not allowed. The ceilings pf the Sistine are covered with Michaelangelo's famous frescos. You can also find Rafael's, Bernini's & Botticelli's frescos as well.

From there we proceeded to the Papal Catacombs. If you were expecting to see something similar to the catacombs of Paris, behold ! You are in for a surprise. It is more like a fancy underground burial chamber than a normal catacomb. Again, pictures are not allowed so I don't have any pictures to share with you but if you are in the Vatican, please do take time to visit there.

From here we made our way to the St. Peter's Basilica. One thing NOT TO MISS here is the "Pieta". That was a major check in my bucket list, I have been dreaming of seeing Michaelangelo's Pieta & David ever since my first Art history lesson way back in early 90's. I have yet to see David but I sure plan to one day.

Michaelangelo's Pieta, St. Peter's Basilica - Image by Manori Sumanasinghe (c) 2010

The Basilica is full of art & sculpture. I have to apologize to my readers but I will not post many images from there simply because there are so many and it is difficult to pick.

St. Peter's Basilica - Images by Manori Sumanasinghe (c) 2010

From the Vatican, we headed back to the Pantheon to see the bright sunlight coming through the Oculus and light up the interior. Any picture cannot justify how it looks and feels inside the Pantheon. Truly breathtaking.

Inside the Pantheon - Image by Manori Sumanasinghe (c) 2010

From there we headed the Spanish Steps, one last stop before heading back to the hotel.

The Spanish Steps - Image by Manori Sumanasinghe (c) 2010

Day 4

The day that we embarked on the Cruise... !!

Await more posts with our journeys in the Mediterranean....