NAME THAT COUNTRY Episode 117

With its elegant design and amazing acoustics, the theater at Epidaurus is widely considered to be the pinnacle of ancient performance venues. The theater was built as a compliment to the nearby Asclepeion health center. Asclepius, the god of medicine and healing, was born at Epidaurus, and his sanctuary there drew health-seekers from around the known world for almost a millennium, from the 6th-century BCE to the 5th-century CE, well into the Christian era. Dramatic performance was considered therapeutic and Asclepeion patients were often prescribed an evening at the theater.
The theater is still in regular use, especially during the annual, summer Epidaurus Festival.

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My Journey through Cuba – A Caribbean Treasure

By Ya’lla traveler DJ McCoy

My excitement was peaked as we touched down in Havana. I had waited all my life to visit Cuba and now I’m actually here.  What wonderful adventures would soon unfold.

Our group of 20 was greeted with smiles by our guide, Ari, and driver, Jorhey. We set off for a short drive through the streets of Havana and paid a visit to the historical Revolution Square. While there, we got our first up-front look at those beautiful vintage automobiles from the 40s and 50s. Then, we were on to our beautiful 5-star accommodations. A lavish welcome dinner awaited us at a beautiful paladar in Havana.  The food, atmosphere, and people were a delight. What a wonderful welcome day to Cuba.

Over the next seven days, our days were full of scenery, architecture, history, art, music, culture, cuisine and Cuba’s beautiful people.

Our visits included a 16th-century monastery, cathedrals, Christopher Columbus Cemetery, the Capitol building, museums, craft markets and even a Salsa lesson.
In the midst of all this touring, we had the opportunity to visit community projects, day care centers and senior centers, where we had the opportunity and privilege to deliver much needed donations to these beautiful people.

One evening, we were escorted in vintage automobiles to our paladar for dinner.
We drove through Havana in style, as we got to enjoy these beautiful cars.

We toured the home of Ernest Hemingway and visited the famous El Floridita Bar, which was Hemingway’s favorite haunt as it still stands as a major landmark in Havana. The famous Havana Club Rum museum was a great stop, as we sampled our way through the tour.

For lunch one day we were taken to a great restaurant where WE were all chefs and got hands-on instruction into the local cuisine; complete with a chef’s apron to take home. We enjoyed many different dishes that we learned how to prepare, and, of course, the traditional Mojito.

A visit to the Bay of Pigs and Museum was fascinating as we retrace this part of the history of this country that has separated so many from visiting it. To see it all in person, Amazing.

A visit to a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the city of Cienfuegos, full of beautiful architecture and culture.

We loved the city of Trinidad, a living testament to its beautiful history of Spanish colonialism – its buildings, restaurants, artisans and cobblestone streets, leave you feeling completely at home. Sugar mills and plantations surround this beautiful city and we saw them all.

It was yet another highlight to visit Hector Luis’ Tobacco Farm, where we were greeted with lunch, drinks, and of course, the famous hand rolled Cuban cigars. As we departed, we saw some of the most beautiful scenery in the country.  A visionary delight.

As my trip draws toward a close, I reflect on the many things I’ve seen, the places I’ve been, and the beautiful people of Cuba. Their hearts are open and their smiles are sincere. They are a resilient people, with kindness in their souls.

I will always cherish my trip to Cuba as one that exceeded my expectations. The experience was life-changing and I will always be grateful I was able to meet the Cuban people and share just a little of what I have with them. I felt like I received so much more than I could have ever imagined.

NAME THAT COUNTRY Episode 116

The Chora Museum (originally a church, then a mosque) is a wee bit removed from the most famous sites (i.e. Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace…) of our mystery country’s largest city, but well worth the effort to visit. The existing 11th-century structure was built on the remains of a 4th-century Byzantine church. When the original church was built, it was outside the city walls, hence the name Chora, which means “country” in ancient Greek. Most of the frescos and mosaics are from the 14th century. After the Ottoman conquest, the church was converted to a mosque and the figurative art, not allowed in Islam, was covered in plaster. Restoration of the mosaics and frescos began in the 1940s.

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Tel el-Amarna, lost city of Egypt

Aten Temple, Tel el-Amarna, Egypt

Aten Temple, Tel el-Amarna, Egypt

In the middle 14th-century BCE, the 18th-Dynasty pharaoh Amenhotep IV broke with many centuries of tradition, when he proclaimed the sun disk Aten to be the god of gods. (This is sometimes referred to as the first instance of monotheism, but it’s more likely that lesser deities continued to be worshipped.) The pharaoh changed his name to Akhenaten to reflect his devotion and moved his capital from Thebes (modern Luxor) to a previously unsettled site 250 miles to the north.This social-cultural-political blip in the timeline of ancient Egypt is known as the Amarna period (named for a later regional tribe).

The city, named Akhetaten, was built and abandoned in little more than a decade.
After Akhenaten’s death around 1334 BCE, his son Tutankhamen moved the royal court back to Thebes and reinstated the traditional religion. Subsequent pharaohs did their best to destroy the memory of Akhenaten and his reforms by defacing royal tombs and scrubbing records of his reign. He was lost to history until the late 19th century, when archaeologists discovered the city at Tel el-Amarna.

The distinctive art of the Amarna period is a tantalizing window on the time but may raise more questions than it answers. In general, it’s more naturalistic than the formal conventions of earlier and later Egyptian art. However, portraits of the royal family, with elongated, pronounced features have caused a lot of speculation. Were they actually deformed or were their figures symbolically stylized? DNA testing on Akhenaten’s remains did not find evidence of any genetic disorder.

Akhenaten, Egyptian Museum

Akhenaten, Egyptian Museum

stele of the royal family touched by the rays of the Aten (Egyptian Museum in Berlin)

stele of the royal family touched by the rays of the Aten (Egyptian Museum in Berlin)

famous bust of Nefertiti, queen of Akhenaten (Egyptian Museum in Berlin)

famous bust of Nefertiti, queen of Akhenaten (Egyptian Museum in Berlin)

Tel el-Amarna is way off the standard tourist track (about 200 miles south of Cairo and 250 north of Luxor) and is really for those with a strong interest in Egyptology. Much of the city was carted off and recycled as building materials in other places, leaving foundations and some mud brick walls. Despite vandalization, the most vivid remains are royal and noble tombs in the cliffs at the north and south ends of the city. The site is quite spread out, about 6 miles from one end to the other, and not particularly well-marked. A licensed guide is recommended.

 

 

NAME THAT COUNTRY Episode 115

Nakhal Fort pictured above is just one of many beautiful, grand old fortresses standing watch over our mystery country. It is located in the north of the country, in the foothills of the Western Hajar Mountains, about 75 miles west of the national capital Muscat.
The fort has been expanded and renovated many times over the centuries but its origin is pre-Islamic, so sometime before the 7th century. The fort wraps around the top of a natural prominence, giving it a unique shape that can appear both an imposing monument and an extension of the rugged landscape.

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