Gyantse – Jewel of Tibet

Monk at the Kumbum in Gyantse, Tibet

Gyantse is easily the most beautiful and atmospheric town in Tibet. There is so much to see, we could easily have stayed a week – but, unfortunately, our 17-day adventure to Mount Kailash allowed for only one day in the photogenic town. Sometimes, you just have to make due with what you have.

To take full advantage of our single day, we started early; in fact, we were up and out before sunrise. This may sound a little too early, but the sun doesn’t come up before 8 AM in Tibet – China can’t be bothered to introduce time zones. Having said that, sunrise was the perfect time to catch Tibet’s stunning morning light.

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The Leaning Tower of Pisa

Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta Pisa

So is a title even necessary for this post? Or did you miss it peeking out from behind the cathedral? The Leaning Tower of Pisa is certainly one of the most recognized monuments on the planet. It’s the perfect place to start a trip to Tuscany and Umbria, and it’s also a great day trip if you happen to be in Florence. What? Too typical, too beaten-track you say?

Travelers with a major ‘tude might write the tower off as the ultimate travel cliché. It’s not. The famous Leaning Tower of Pisa and the stunning cathedral complex, including its monumental baptistry, are serious traveler eye-candy. If you need a more highbrow motivation, it’s the perfect place to study the very unique Pisan take on Romanesque architecture and search for hints of early Gothic. And, of course, there’s the whole leaning thing.

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The Guarani Missions of Argentina and Paraguay

San Ignacio Mini, a Guarani mission

A trip through South America, as spectacular as it is, can often feel like one long story of conflict and open war between the continent’s native peoples and European colonists. Even today, there is a very palpable tension between these groups.

So as we were passing through northern Argentina along the border with Paraguay on our way to Iguazú Falls, we were happy to discover a slightly different story. In the 17th century, Jesuit missionaries entering the area took a rather unique approach to conversion. They set out to create what some have termed a “Utopian” blend of native and European culture in methodically constructed communities referred to as reducciones.

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Hagia Sophia – The World’s Most Amazing Building

Massive interior of Hagia Sophia

Not so coincidentally, my favorite building in the world is in my favorite city in the world. Hagia Sophia, consecrated in 537 A.D., is one of the architectural greats. Considered simultaneously the greatest construction of late antiquity as well as the Byzantine world, Hagia Sophia reigned supreme as the world’s largest cathedral for nearly a thousand years until the construction of the Cathedral of Seville. In reality, there was nothing in the entire world that could compete with it from an architectural standpoint. (And there still isn’t in my mind.)

The Ottomans did their best to out-construct the wonder sitting in their backyard. And if we are talking about exteriors only, many would argue they succeeded with the Blue Mosque. But nothing compares with the cavernous interior of Hagia Sophia. There is something magical about the construction and the light, which clearly comes through in photographs; it almost looks computer generated. The building fills me with awe every time I see it.

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Trujillo – Pyramids, Plazas and Playas

Huaca Arco Iris

As we mentioned in our post on Caral, much of northern Peru is gloriously neglected by the country’s mass tourism. It’s a vast area filled with colonial towns, great food and the crumbling remnants of unknown ancient cultures. It’s an adventurer’s paradise waiting to be explored.

As we bused north on the paved Pan-American highway to Trujillo, the number of seductive dirt tracks luring travelers off the road to remote archaeological sites was almost too much to bear. We passed a number of remote ruins which I would have loved to visit including Paramonga, the fortress of Chanquillo, and Sechin. Thank god for visa limitations, or Thomas and I would be here for another six months combing the desert, side valleys and mountains for hidden treasures.

But it’s just a fact of life, there is no way to see everything in Peru because this country is overwhelmed with world-class Continue…

Exploring The Tribal Villages of Sumba

Tribal western Sumba is without question one of the most fascinating cultural regions in all of Indonesia. Eclipsed by more famous destinations such as Papua, Sulawesi, Sumatra and Flores, remote Sumba is primarily visited by travelers with a keen interest in ethno-tourism. Way off the beaten path – or any path for that matter – you don’t just end up here by mistake; you come here specifically to take in the unique Sumbanese tribal art, architecture and cultural heritage.

Sumba is a tough place to travel: there are few hotels, roads can be terrible, English is non-existent and the tribal communities can be somewhat volatile. Conflicts can break out at any time, even in the larger population centers such as Waikabubak. In fact, on our way to dinner one evening in Waikabubak, we were turned back because Continue…

The Akha

Akha woman in northern Laos

The first time I went to Thailand in 1990, I had the opportunity to trek through portions of the North to visit many of the hill tribes. At that time, traditional clothing and culture were still very intact. Yes, there were already too many tourists, but there was still much to be seen and experienced especially in the remote regions along the borders of Myanmar and Laos. The markets of the Golden Triangle were filled with a mix of exotic tribal people donning colorful garb buying and selling goods in a dozen languages.

The obvious stars of the markets were the Akha, a group whose unique culture, blood-red betel nut stained teeth, and over-the-top headdresses made them one of the most recognizable tribal groups in the world. I had hoped Continue…

Leaning Towers of Danba

Danba Three Towers

Danba (丹巴) is a small town along the border of the Tibetan and Qiang ethnic regions of Sichuan. It is known to adventure travelers for the ancient Qiang watchtowers that cling to the steep slopes of the surrounding mountain valleys.

In order to get up close and personal with these impressive monuments, we hired a driver and headed out into the villages of Zhonglu and Suopo near Danba. After roaming the terraced cornfields and orchards, we casually strolled by houses with towers waiting for an invitation. Hilariously, there weren’t many Continue…

Things to Do in Rome: Classic Rome Attractions

Things to do in Rome: The Pantheon

They say that all roads lead to Rome. Well, we finally made it to the Eternal City, so it must be true. In our case, we traveled the long way around through Asia and South America literally taking every road known to man to get here. And to celebrate our victory, we spent one glorious month exploring Rome’s amazing architectural and artistic treasures as well as delving into the city’s exciting culinary world.

We quickly realized that Rome is positively overwhelming. The number of churches, Roman temples, gelaterias, street markets, fountains, villas, galleries, museums, and piazzas made our heads spin. There were so many amazing things to do in Rome, we could have spent years here exploring and never seen it all. For that reason, it’s even more crucial to plan your itinerary beforehand to get the most out of your visit. If you are still wondering what things to do in Rome, we will be highlighting some of our favorite Rome attractions both on and off the well-trodden Roman path. To begin, let’s start with the classic Rome attractions! Continue…

What to Do in Rome off the Beaten Path

Rome off the beaten path: Giant foot in the Capitoline Museums

With over 10 million tourists a year, Rome is the third most visited city in Europe after London and Paris. And for good reason. It is a treasure trove of ancient monuments, history and art. Unfortunately, Rome is also one of those cities with a disproportionate focus on a handful of obvious sights such as the Colosseum or St. Peter’s Basilica. But what makes Rome so fantastic is not just the classics, it’s the sum of everything that lies in between.

Finding the not-so-obvious, however, can be quite daunting. Many Rome off the beaten path attractions are literally underground. If you wonder what to do in Rome beyond the well-trodden trail, you’ll be surprised that there’s a lot to discover. After first introducing our top things to do in Rome in a previous post, here are some of our favorite off-the-beaten-path attractions in and around Rome to get you started. Continue…