Belem Tower in Lisbon at Dusk

Belem Tower, Guarding the Entrance to Portugal’s Global Empire

…souvenir shops to the ornate stained glass windows at Pena Palace in Sintra. The tower has surprising decorative flourish–it was, after all, the gateway to the vast Portuguese empire. But its thick limestone bricks are impressively solid, in keeping with its primary purpose. It was part of a defensive net…

Models of Fishing Boats at the Museu de Marinha (Maritime Museum) in Lisbon Portugal

Portugal’s Maritime History Museum

…the richest and strongest in the known world. It was the result of two related discoveries. One was the exploration of Africa’s west coast as a byproduct of trying to find a way around the continent and then across to India and Central Asia. When Vasco da Gama landed in…

World War I Exhibit at Military Museum in Lisbon Portugal

Lisbon’s Military Museum

…as with so much of this museum, it’s the room’s decorations that steal attention. It’s known as the Vasco da Gama Room, and every inch of its walls and its ceiling are covered with maps and paintings illustrating the Age of Discovery and the opening of trade routes between Portugal…

Panorama of the Battle of Waterloo

Panorama of the Battle of Waterloo

…generations who have recognized the importance of that moment in history. On the inside walls of the cylindrical building is a massive 360-degree canvas painted by Louis Dumoulin in 1912. It was commissioned for the 100th anniversary of the battle. The painting measures 361 feet (110m) around and nearly 40…

Space Shuttle Enterprise

Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

…to Know Before You Go Both are free to enter (but parking at the Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center is $15 per car). Both can get very busy, especially during the summer, but the vast expanse of the Udvar-Hazy Center can accommodate more people without it feeling crowded. The National Mall…

Panorama of the Battle of Waterloo

Waterloo Panorama Virtual Tour

The Panorama of the Battle of Waterloo is housed in its own purpose-built building next to the Lion’s Mound (Butte du Lion) at the battlefield. On the inside walls of the cylindrical building is a massive 360-degree canvas painted by Louis Dumoulin in 1912. It was commissioned for the 100th…

Blue Mountains Australia

Australia’s Blue Mountains

…here because so many dead-end into cliffs and waterfalls–instead, they had to learn to follow the ridges. But once a way was found through, usually credited (probably erroneously) to Gregory Blaxland, William Lawson, and William Charles Wentworth, the vast plains of western New South Wales could be exploited for farming…

Lake Manyara National Park Elephant

Lake Manyara National Park

…lots of wildlife. Hippos soak in the muddy water, and zebras, wildebeests, and impala graze. The other end looks very different: a vast, flat, featureless plain from the alkaline water. Lake Manyara is, after all, basically a salt lake (or, more properly, a soda lake). The grass, such that there…

National Pantheon in Lisbon Portugal

The Luminaries of Portuguese History and Culture

…the church was considered completed. Now Igreja de Santa Engrácia serves as the National Pantheon, a burial place and tribute hall to luminaries in Portuguese history and culture. Under a giant cupola, the floor and walls are decorated in colored marbles. Along the sides are cenotaphs to figures like Vasco…

Stone of the Sun (Aztec Calendar Stone) at the National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City

Mexico’s Cultural Treasures

The National Museum of Anthropology is Mexico’s most-visited museum. And it’s easy to see why. It has a vast array of exhibits related to Mesoamerica’s cultural history. And it is a region with an exceptionally rich cultural history. It’s not just about Aztecs and Incas, although there’s an abundance of…

Photo of Cu Chi Tunnels Tourists in Tunnel Hole

Cu Chi Tunnels

…gruesome flair. Up to 30 percent of some types of bombs didn’t explode, which is why the problem of unexploded ordnance, or UXO, remains a modern-day blight on vast tracts of Southeast Asia. But the Vietcong saw those unexploded munitions as opportunities. They would collect the unexploded bombs, cut them…

Belfry of Bruges, Belgium

The Belfry of Bruges

…squares. The canals, with their broken silver, bound it on either side, and the featureless flat landscape, discolored and dim, mounts to the edge of the grayish blue sky, an empty circle. Below you–immediately below–lies the vast empty Grand Place, looking, no doubt, precisely as it looked five hundred years…

Bruges Canals at Dusk

Bruges by Night

To be subjected to the full fascination of Bruges, one should see it on a fair, still night, without a moon. In every direction gables mysteriously cut the sky. All is vast and dim around the funereal canals, out of which, one knows not how, gray towers, like the architecture…

Altar Piece in Cathedral of Granada, Nicaragua

Catedral de Granada

You can’t miss it in Granada. Most of the city is pretty flat, with the vast majority of the buildings standing, at most, two stories above the street. Towering far above all of it, visible from miles around, are the distinctive yellow and white bell towers and dome of the…

Buddha Statue in Manuha Temple in Bagan, Myanmar (Burma)

Manuha Temple

…and out. The main feature is three chambers that are filled with oversized statues of the Buddha, each of stucco and painted gold. They’re vastly outsized for their spaces, and it’s hard to get a good view of them. In the back, an extension includes an even larger chamber taken…

Aya Sofya interior with tourists

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul’s Byzantine Jewel

…after years, in the quiet of the stranger’s home, it is the colossal form of Sancta Sophia which stands out most distinct on the canvas of Constantinople memories. (National Geographic, May 1915) The beautiful interior tiling of the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque), which shares the peak of the first…

Icons on Display in the Museu de Sao Roque in Lisbon Portugal

Museu de São Roque

…first in Christendom. This section of the museum documents the Society’s two hundred years at the church. It’s divided into several sections, including iconography and liturgical items. Oriental Art This exhibition focuses on art collected since the arrival of Vasco da Gama in India in 1498. It’s grouped by geographical…